Because we have been tracking the Cubs’ own launch of a new Regional Sports Network – Marquee Sports Network – we have frequently mentioned “the situation in Los Angeles,” the catch-all label by which the Dodgers’ channel launch fiasco has come to be referred.
In short, when the Dodgers paired up with Time Warner to launch SportsNet LA all the way back in 2013, it was the stuff of legend: the kind of $8+ *billion* TV contract that was going to completely transform the financial landscape for big-market clubs like the Dodgers. And, in many ways, it did. The team got paid enormous rights fees, and for years ran a payroll untouched by any other team.
But, as part-owners of the network, itself, the Dodgers were less successful for one huge reason: the channel has never been available in more than 50% of the households in LA. That’s right. For six years, half of the Dodgers fans in the area either had to switch their TV provider, or could not get the channel that hosted their team’s games. It became the grand cautionary tale for all RSNs that came after: we know you want to make huge money getting the most carriage fees you can for your channel, but you also need to think about actually serving your fans.
To that end, when the Cubs launched Marquee, they were well aware of this potential issue, and priced their channel accordingly. The efforts to get full carriage, of course, remain TBD in the COVID-19-induced limbo, as Comcast has still not yet agreed to carry the channel, and there might not be a push to do so until the MLB season actually approaches (whenever that is).
I mention this all, because today – incredibly – the Dodgers have apparently come to a deal with the largest holdout in their carriage negotiations that go back half a decade! This is really crazy:
A bit of good news… and this is not an April Fools Day joke. A deal has been reached for Direct TV to carry the Dodgers station, SportsNet LA. It’s already broadcasting on Channel 690 this morning.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 1, 2020
It’s hard to overstate how crazy this is. It would be like the Cubs and Comcast being in a Marquee standoff for six years, and then suddenly, with absolutely no warning, the sides just strike a deal in the middle of a pandemic (which has shut down all sports!), and boom, the channel is there on Comcast.
Maybe this is a sign that, even in the current conditions, the Cubs and Sinclair and Marquee can get a deal done for Comcast carriage sometime in the coming months? Maybe even “old” sports content is still king right now when there’s nothing else on? Maybe it’s a bet of optimism by DirecTV that sports will, indeed, return at some point this summer? I’d planned to explore this topic more soon, but then this news dropped and it really threw me for a loop. Stay tuned.
(Our last look at the state of Sinclair/Cubs/Marquee is here. Things were rough even before the sports world shut down.)