It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Major League Baseball kicked off the season a little early this year with two games in Sydney, Australia, between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The rest of the regular season opens in a week. Most of the country watched these early games on the MLB Network. But here in Los Angeles, you could only watch on a brand-new, all-Dodgers channel. It was the most high-profile moment yet in what's become quite the controversy in baseball and beyond. NPR's Becky Sullivan reports.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's Saturday night in L.A. and I'm watching the Dodgers here at a bar called The Short Stop. The bar is full. But every few minutes, the bartender has to stop serving drinks so he can answer the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Short Stop. Yes, we have the Dodger game on. Anything else?

SULLIVAN: Turns out, almost everyone is here because for the first season ever, the Dodgers aren't on free local TV. Instead, they're on a new channel owned by the Dodgers called SportsNet LA. And right now, Time Warner is the only major provider in all of Southern California that carries it. Joseph Caldera(ph) even had trouble finding a sports bar with the game.

JOSEPH CALDERA: Nobody had it. And so at the last minute, we remembered here and, all right, let's get down there because how else are we going to see it?

SULLIVAN: It is a huge shock to the system. Just last season, the Dodgers played about 50 games on free, over-the-air TV. David Carter is the director of USC's Sports Business Institute. He's been watching this deal since the Dodgers were sold for $2 billion a couple years ago.

DAVID CARTER: One of the big pieces of the sale was that they were going to be able to extract a lot of money from local cable television.

SULLIVAN: The two channels that aired Dodgers games last season paid just $50 million for those rights. Look at the Yankees. They're due to pull in nearly double that this season. So David Carter says the Dodgers made a deal with the region's biggest TV provider, Time Warner Cable.

CARTER: The Dodgers would collect a little over $8 billion over 25 years. That money would flow into the team, and then Time Warner Cable would be responsible for gaining subscribers and generating advertising revenue over that timeframe.

SULLIVAN: You heard that right. Time Warner is paying more than $8 billion to broadcast the Dodgers. That is double what even the Yankees are making. But this deal puts Time Warner in a pickle.

CARTER: They have some financial risk, to say the least.

SULLIVAN: To make this deal work, Time Warner has to get other TV providers to carry SportsNet LA. The company won't comment on current negotiations, but they're reportedly asking for between four and $5 per subscriber per month. I'll let Dan York of DirecTV put that in context.

DAN YORK: Time Warner's proposed price for the Dodgers is over double what the average regional sports network costs in the United States. And virtually every one of those other networks has more than one team.

SULLIVAN: DirecTV is the number two provider in the L.A. area. I called them up, along with Cox and Verizon, providers number three and four. They all said they were negotiating with Time Warner but that they hadn't yet reached a deal. In other words, no Dodgers for their subscribers. Andy Albert of Cox says it's not just the Dodgers fans they have to consider.

ANDY ALBERT: The cost for just regional sports that we carry today and ESPN is probably pretty close to $20 out of every month what customers pay on their cable bill. And a lot of those aren't sports fans.

SULLIVAN: Cable bills already average about 100 bucks a month. And as more teams move to their own special networks, a breaking point could be on the horizon. Eventually, people who don't care about sports may decide it just doesn't make sense to keep paying so much.



SULLIVAN: But that's still in the future. Here now back at The Short Stop, Joseph Caldera is just hoping for a smooth resolution.

CALDERA: It's just the business people are going to work it out, and I'm going to get the game soon. But we'll see. If it drags on a few weeks, a month in the season, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to be going crazy a little bit.

SULLIVAN: One game at the bar ain't so bad, he says, but Joseph can't come here for every game. If all these TV companies can't reach a deal, he and all the other Angelinas here at the bar will have to figure out other ways to watch their Dodgers. Becky Sullivan, NPR News.

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