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Baseball Teams See Distribution Holes As New Season Takes Opening Swings

Opening Day is typically a time of hope for Major League Baseball fans. It’s also when they can get caught in the carriage-fee negotiations between regional sports networks carrying the home club’s games and distributors that can keep devotees from watching their squad.

For some supporters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees, the prospects of missing team telecasts loomed with the 2014 campaign set to begin this week.

SportsNet Los Angeles and CSN Houston, the RSN homes of the Dodgers and Astros, respectively, faced the most daunting holes in their distribution lineups.

Herewith a scorecard:

SportsNet LA: Time Warner Cable, which is operating and managing SportsNet LA for the Dodgers, as part of a 25-year agreement valued at between $8.35 billion and $9 billion, is swinging hard at affiliate negotiations.

As of presstime Friday, the MSO has plenty of work ahead as only Bright House Networks had joined it in the RSN’s affiliate camp. TWC said it was in active negotiations with all providers in the Dodgers TV territory: Direc- TV, Cox, Charter, AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS and Dish Network.

There was a sense subscribers to those providers were going to miss more action of the defending NL West champions in the days to come. The Dodgers played a pair of regular-season games in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 22-23 and were scheduled to face the Padres on March 30 on ESPN.

Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten acknowledged concern “that some fans are going to start to not be able to see the games” before the team’s exhibition with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on March 27. He expressed disappointment that “deals haven’t closed yet,” while calling distributors’ talk of a la carte “disingenuous” in that “there is not another team in all of baseball whose games are a la carte anywhere, including, interestingly enough, on the cable systems owned by these same providers with their own RSNs.”

Distributors said the monthly subscriber price ask for SportsNet LA is upward of $4 and escalates significantly in the years ahead.

CSN Houston: At press time Friday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes was scheduled to meet with Astros owner Jim Crane, NBA Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander and Comcast executive Robert Pick for the parties to try to bridge some differences if not reach a resolution for financially troubled network that has been under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since Feb. 4.

The RSN has been unable to pay rights fees to its two partners, stemming from a distribution lineup that only reaches 40% of the Houston DMA, amidst its five-state TV territory, through deals with Comcast and several small providers.

The $3.40 ask for monthly license fee has left DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T U-verse, Suddenlink, Verizon FiOS, Time Warner Cable and others outside of the distribution dugout, and the RSN in a make-good mode with advertisers.

CSN Philadelphia: Following its new 25-year rights deal valued at a reported $2.5 billion with the hometown Phillies, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia is seeking a subscriber surcharge for the 33 or more additional ballgames it will air this season and beyond.

The RSN said it has connected with the “vast majority” of distributors that carry the service, including owner Comcast. The two notable holdouts – in addition to DirecTV and Dish Network, which have never carried CSN Philadelphia – are FiOS and RCN.

A spokesman for the telco said it was in discussions with CSN Philadelphia, but would not handicap the outcome. RCN didn’t respond to questions. The Phillies’ season opens against the Texas Rangers on Monday, March 31.

The amount of the surcharge has not been disclosed. CSN Philadelphia will black out the additional contests to distributors that don’t consummate deals.

Sports Time Ohio: The RSN home of the Indians has been off of Dish’s reservation since January in a price dispute. DBS subscribers face missing 154 telecasts of last year’s American League Wild Card team, the first of which is scheduled for March 31 against the Oakland A’s.

Dish didn’t return phone calls by press time, but this message, indicating that the parties’ contract has expired, appears on its website: “SportsTime Ohio is demanding an unreasonable rate increase to carry this channel. We are working around the clock to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with SportsTime Ohio.”

The RSN said negotiations are continuing and could go down to the wire.

YES Network: As part of a broader negotiation with Time Warner Cable, Fox Sports reached a renewal deal with the nation’s second-largest cable operator for YES Network before their contract expired at the end of January.

However, the TV home to the New York Yankees, said it remains “committed to actively negotiating” to receive “fair compensation for the value” of its programming with small Pennsylvania operator Service Electric Cablevision. The current contract expires on March 31, the day before the revamped Bronx Bombers open against the Astros. Service Electric Cablevision officials could not be reached by presstime.

FS San Diego: The RSN home to the Padres has completed its distribution roster, via Fox’s above-mentioned deal with Time Warner Cable, with the MSO scheduled to launch the channel on March 30. The deal, with undisclosed terms, ends a two-year absence for the operator on FS San Diego.