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Dodgers aren't doing enough to end broadcast blackout

What are the Dodgers doing to end a broadcast blackout that hits 70% of Southern California? -- Steve Lopez
The Dodgers are losing die-hard fans because of the broadcast blackout -- Steve Lopez

Last week, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw threw a no-hitter and I tweeted a photo of the celebration, a reader responded.

"Stupid that most of Los Angeles was unable to watch" the game, wrote Terry Kinigstein. "Time that the Dodgers are available to all of us?"

It's past time, Terry. But what, if anything, are the Dodgers doing to end the stalemate over a broadcast blackout that hits 70% of Southern California? And where the heck is the team's part owner and public face Magic Johnson, whose only magic appears to have been a disappearing act?

Give me a minute, and I'll let you know how the Dodgers responded when I asked those questions. But first some context.

This all began in 2012 when the Guggenheim Group, or whatever they call themselves, paid too much money — about $2 billion — to buy the Dodgers from the hated Frank McCourt. Even McCourt had the sense not to let anyone hide the likes of Vin Scully, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp from their adoring fans.

The new owners then managed to dupe Time Warner Cable into spending an even more obscene amount — $8.4 billion — for the rights to broadcast the games on SportsNet LA. And why are all these high rollers happy to throw around that kind of money?

Come on, you know the answer.

Because they figure they'll get all of it back from you and me by raising the price of tickets and hot dogs and the fees for getting the games on TV. It's not even about baseball. It's about printing money with sports and communications monopolies. I don't even want to see what it's going to cost to go to a Clippers game if Microsoft gazillionaire Steve Ballmer's inflated $2-billion offer for the team goes through.

But in the case of the Dodgers, there was a snag along the way. DirecTV and other companies didn't like Time Warner's asking price for the right to carry the games, and they told the cable giant to stuff it. So the standoff continues, with half the season gone and no relief in sight.

Technically, it's Time Warner and the programming providers who have to work things out. But one would hope the Dodgers aren't so busy counting the cash Time Warner owes them that they have quit trying to help the warring titans forge a deal.

More than two months ago, Dodgers President Stan Kasten had this to say in a story by Times sportswriter Bill Shaikin:

"We are doing all that we can behind the scenes to help Time Warner and get this into as many homes as possible."

How's that going, Stan? I'd like an update.

In that same piece, Shaikin suggested to Magic Johnson that he get all the parties into a room and use his 6-foot 10-inch powers of persuasion to hammer out a deal.

"I would love to do that," Johnson said. "If this thing isn't over soon, I'm taking your advice, for these fans."

Nice to know you were looking out for our interests, Magic. But when I called your office Monday to find out how it was going, I was told you were unavailable because you were traveling outside the country.

Good for him, I said to a Dodgers PR man. But are there countries that don't have phones or email?

"Magic did reach out to DirecTV recently," the PR man said in an emailed response.

What does that mean? Did he leave a phone message, or maybe send an Easter card? And did he at least get a response?

I sent half a dozen questions to Kasten through Dodgers PR, including a query about why the Dodgers didn't anticipate programming conflicts and try to resolve them before stuffing their pockets with Time Warner cash and turning their backs on fans.

"They are not going to comment," was the reply I got from PR. "Time Warner continues to negotiate with DirecTV and the other carriers."

Based on Kasten's April claim that he was "doing all that we can behind the scenes," I asked Time Warner if Kasten or Johnson have put much work into a resolution.

Their response: I should refer those questions to the Dodgers.

Yeah, I tried that.

The Time Warner flack said in an email, "We hope that providers will come on board soon. We continue to work tirelessly to make that happen. But DirecTV has shown no sense of urgency in getting a deal done."

So they're all standing around pointing fingers, but they speak with one voice when they say: Drop Dead, Dodgers Fans.

And they're losing die-hards like Kinigstein, the guy who tweeted me. I asked the Calabasas lawyer how long he'd been a Dodgers fan.

"It goes back to Brooklyn, when my dad took me to Ebbets Field," Kinigstein said, reciting the 1955 Dodger lineup.

Kinigstein moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and continued supporting the team along with his two sons, watching the Dodgers on TV and going to 10 or 15 games a year. Now, though, he's so upset about the TV blackout and the greed behind it, he's not even listening to games on the radio.

"I'm starting to watch Angels games," he said. "I point a finger at both Time Warner and DirecTV, and the Dodgers too. The Dodgers were greedy and I think it's unfair to fans to take all the free games that were televised on Channel 9 off the air."

The obvious answer is compromise, said Kinigstein, and the Dodgers ought to give a little too. It's not as if they'd go broke accepting less than the staggering sum of $8.4 billion.

In the meantime, the Angels are easy to find on TV, and they're playing pretty well.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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