As the Dodgers begin real games that count on Saturday from Sydney, their regular season will begin with their brand new shiny network SportsNet LA only available to a fraction of viewers.
Champion Broadband reached agreement to carry SportsNet LA by Friday night — channel 136 in standard definition and 620 in high definition if you are one of its customers in Monrovia or Arcadia — adding to network partner Time Warner Cable and the Bakersfield-based Bright House Networks.
The two games against the Diamondbacks will also be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and will be available on Extra Innings and MLB.tv, but not for those in the Dodgers' television market, who will be blacked out. Locally, it's SportsNet LA or else.
Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times estimated that 70 percent of the L.A. television market won't be able to see the opening series from Sydney:
Time Warner Cable Executive Vice President Melinda Witmer said the company is having "meaningful and creative" conversations with distributors and is confident that once the season really gets going, deals will happen.
"It is no surprise to me that deals are not concluded at this point," she said.
Distributors have said they would be willing to carry SportsNet LA if they could offer it to consumers on an a la carte basis, so customers who aren't sports fans don't have to pick up the bill.
"When the pricing for broad carriage is substantially higher than the true value, it is only fair to permit only the fans who want to pay for it to have the option and not tax everyone else, which is the vast majority of consumers," said Dan York, chief content officer for DirecTV, which has around 1.2 million subscribers in the region.
The reality of these negotiations is that the pair of Australia games are not enough of a deadline to get parties to negotiate. Sure it's nice to have Opening Day, but 1 a.m. PT and 7 p.m. PT games on a Saturday aren't exactly the recipe for a ratings bonanza.
The Lakers new channel TWC SportsNet, another Time Warner network, had negotiations drag into the regular season in 2012-2013, and that's likely to happen again with the Dodgers. Back in February, Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said as much.
"I understand, like in every other city, there is a process to get to that end result," Kasten said. "I can't tell you the timetable, but it works out in virtually every other city."
The Dodgers deal with Time Warner is worth a reported $8.35 billion over 25 years. They will never say so publicly, but from a long-term perspective having the network unavailable to the majority of customers for a few weeks or even months in 2014 is only a tiny blip on the radar.
But that doesn't make it any less painful for fans simply wanting to watch Dodgers games. Even those in the L.A. market who would be willing to pay extra have no real mechanism to do so other than wait and hope other providers eventually reach agreement with SportsNet LA.
"I guess it will feel strange to know we’re not going to be seen by the big audience we always have," Vin Scully told Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News.
It's tiiiiiime to illegally stream Dodger baseball.