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For Dodgers fans, just call this new channel Sports 'Nyet' L.A.

Fans are held hostage, unable to watch games because of dispute between Time Warner Cable and other providers over new Dodgers channel.

March 04, 2014|Bill Plaschke
  • Anchor John Hartung sits in the SportsNet LA studio in El Segundo days before the network's official launch on Feb. 25. Not every Dodgers fan is cheering for the team's new cable channel.
Anchor John Hartung sits in the SportsNet LA studio in El Segundo days before… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

If you're a Dodgers fan, you know somebody like Brian Gadinsky. Chances are, you may even be like Brian Gadinsky.

The TV producer moved to Los Angeles on an October day in 1988. The next night, Kirk Gibson hit the home run, and Gadinsky has been hooked ever since.

He has season tickets on the reserved level. He is neither famous nor entitled, he is just an average guy with a powerful passion about a team that has come to represent his love for his city.

When Frank McCourt's regime began to slowly burn, Gadinsky angrily canceled his tickets. When the former owner invited Gadinsky to lunch in hopes of regaining his support, Gadinsky refused. When that story was told in this column, it marked the beginning of the Dodgers' fan revolution.

When Stan Kasten arrived with the new ownership group, he invited Gadinsky and other grass-roots fans back to the stadium. Gadinsky showed up, listened to a presentation, and decided to give the Dodgers another chance.

"The Dodgers are a religion," he said Tuesday.

But he said it with a sigh, because less than a month from now that "religion" could be barring him from the church doors.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Dodgers fans, Gadinsky has lost all access to the Dodgers because his pay-TV operator does not carry their expansive but expensive new channel, SportsNet LA.

"I'm sick of it, it's embarrassing," said Gadinsky. "The fans have become props."

Those props are now waving their arms and raising their voices. They have already missed some spring training games and are now within three weeks of missing regular-season games, starting with the team's opening series in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In other words, those props are doing just what the Dodgers hoped they would do.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm personally not mad at the Dodgers," said Gadinsky. "But I just wish they would fix it."

It is another case of sports cable kidnapping that is beyond fixing. This winter, the Dodgers were paid more than $8 billion by Time Warner Cable to create and manage a new Dodgers-only television network. Because Time Warner paid so much, it has to charge local pay-TV operators a hefty fee — exceeding $4 per subscriber.

So far, none of the big guys like Charter, Cox, DirecTV or AT&T U-verse — Gadinsky's operator — have bought in because they consider it unfair to their millions of non-Dodgers fans to raise everyone's rates. Time Warner Cable will not sell it on a tier system in which Dodgers fans can pay extra for that channel, because they don't think it will generate enough income.

The Dodgers are counting on the frightened outrage of those fans to force the issue. One blue-sleeved arm is wrapped about those fan's necks, and the other is waving a bat in the air.

"Take our channel or lose your subscriber," they are telling the pay-TV operators, and the louder the fan wails the better.

"I'll admit, I called over to my cable company and said, 'What's going on? If something doesn't happen, you're going to lose me as a customer,'" Gadinsky said.

That's rich. A guy supports you for half of his life and now he's reduced to begging to watch you on television?

For lots of Dodgers fans, even begging won't work, as the team's games will no longer be on the free TV channels that those who cannot afford any sort of cable TV have long relied upon.

Just in case the pay-TV operators are not hearing the fans' fear, the Dodgers — doing all of this under the guise of Time Warner Cable, of course — have provided a space for them to write their own ransom note to the cable companies, on the desperately named ""

"I'm just a consumer who feels like he's getting screwed," Gadinsky said. "I don't understand why they can't make this deal."

The truth, of course, is that the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable and most pay-TV operators will probably make this deal. Only Dish Network still doesn't broadcast the Lakers' TWC channel, and it could be the only holdout here. Most cable companies will ultimately fear the monetary loss involved in not telecasting this town's most traditional sports entity, and they will cave.

But it will all happen at the last minute, and it makes you wonder: Couldn't the still-new Dodgers ownership have thought for a second about all the turmoil the team's fans have had to endure in recent years and actually figured out a way to avoid this purgatory?

That's the message here. For all their promises kept, the new Dodgers ownership has yet to figure out its fans.

Yes, the fans want you to have the money to sign Clayton Kershaw. But no, they do not want to be held hostage to make that happen. The Dodgers are bigger than the bank account of Mark Walter and the economic vision of Stan Kasten. The Dodgers are not only a baseball team, they're a city monument that needs to be accessible to all those who have spent so many years building it.

This disconnect is obvious in one of the SportsNet LA ads featuring clips of Gibson's home run. Vin Scully's voice is heard calling the homer, yet the commercial ends before he says the unforgettable, "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

How could they leave that out? How could they not know that Scully's timeless call is incomplete without it? Dodgers fans know. Dodgers fans were there.

For more than 50 years, Dodgers fans have been there. Dodgers ownership needs to put down the bat for a second and remember that.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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