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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stan Kasten Wants You To Annoy Your Neighbors To Pay Off His Spending Habit

A couple days ago, I received an e-mail from someone named Amy Millstone at Time-Warner Cable, containing the following missive from Stan Kasten:

This afternoon, Stan Kasten spoke to the media about various things and gave an update about SportsNet LA. Quotes below if you’d like to use them.

It’s incredibly important, as Stan said, for fans to speak up now and let their providers know that they want to watch SportsNet LA. Fan demand is really what makes the difference. Fans can do that by calling their providers at 844-I-NEED-MY, visiting www.ineedmydodgers.com, using the hashtag #ineedmydodgers or by contacting them directly.

All quotes from Stan Kasten, President and CEO, Los Angeles Dodgers

"I've been in the cable TV business my entire professional life, including 27 years at TBS, and I have never seen a better quality baseball broadcast than the one SportsNet LA now puts on."

"I am disappointed that deals haven't been closed yet...With the first regular season game coming on Tuesday, I am now concerned that some fans are going to start to not be able to see the games. And that's disappointing and shouldn't be happening.

"I do occasionally see rhetoric that is disappointing because it's disingenuous. For instance, when some cable providers say, 'Gee, we think the Dodgers should be a la carte.' All these providers know 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. They don't do it for themselves and by the way those same providers have their deals at higher prices for bigger packages than have been offered to them right now.

"The other thing that's particularly irritating in terms of disingenuous rhetoric is when some of them say, 'We're not really seeing the demand for the Dodgers.' That doesn't pass the laugh test because you know about the attendance not just here, but we also led baseball in road attendance. We have the highest number of season tickets we've ever had; it is the highest in all of Major League Baseball. Last year our TV ratings didn't go up by 2% or 4%, they went up by 40% and look to be higher this year. So come up with some other excuse because the reality is, in the history of this franchise, it is likely that right now is the time with the greatest interest that our team has ever had."

"My suggestions to the fans that still do not have Dodger games is to tell your provider that you want the games. If you do that, you will get the games. They have to be told as many times as necessary that you want the games, that's what they're in business for. If you tell them that, they will provide it. And if it's not happening quickly enough for you, my other suggestion is to go to a provider that is providing it....Letting your provider know is at the end of the day what's going to get all of the games on TV."

On price: "Let me assure you that we're talking about market rates and very consistently what's out there now, and that's what's disappointing...This is not about price, the price is consistent with the market place. In fact, to be blunt, some of these people, and they know who they are, are already on their own systems paying more than the price that's out there to teams in smaller markets. That's the truth. This is not about price, it's about the negotiating game."

If you have any questions, let me know!


My point-by-point response:
  1. On the disingenuousness of "the Dodgers should be a la carte": Insofar as I know, this is essentially correct; not even YES Network is sold thus.
  2. On the increase in ratings signaling large interest in the Dodgers: Probably true for last year, but the variability merely speaks to a winning team versus a mediocrity. Indeed, how much a team's games gets watched on TV is a direct function of how good they are; for instance, Phillies' games ratings dropped 36% versus 2012 as it became clear the 2013 club would be no better than the prior year's (and indeed finished eight games worse). If you're a buyer — albeit indirect — of such a risky product, you're just as concerned about the possible downside (what you risk if they stink) as about rewards when the team wins.
  3. "Tell your provider that you want the games." I believe the nearly two years the Padres were blacked out for most cable customers in their own market should show the results such pressure exerts, i.e. almost none. I am unfortunately prepared to forego Dodgers games in 2014, and possibly beyond, thanks to the stubbornness of both my cable provider (Verizon) and Time Warner.
  4. Regarding the current price as reflecting the marketplace: Apparently Mr. Kasten thinks that cable providers will just hop to and pass on additional costs to their subscribers (or will negotiate other fees down). I find this at best farfetched, and perhaps delusional.
Wendy Thurm — who wrote the Dodgers preview in this year's Baseball Prospectus — published a fantastic piece in Fangraphs about how the Dodgers' TV deal may be the last such to go through. The Astros may actually have been saved from making a stupid and similar decision by a fluke of timing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The White Flag Spring Training: Padres 7, Cubs 1

On July 31, 1997, the White Sox executed their infamous White Flag Trade, which signaled their surrender of that season. Sending Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernández to the Giants, the Sox got a number of quality players that, three years later, helped them to a division pennant. But at the time it was viewed by Chisox fans as throwing in the towel at a time when the club was a scant 3.5 games back of Cleveland in the standings. That's pretty depressing, but there are times when you must recognize that "win now" is futile.

The Cubs are well past that. And as my friend Al Yellon has repeatedly observed, the Cubs persist in running minor leaguers out in spring training well past the point when other teams normally would have reassigned them to minor league camp. All true, yet I see a certain, limited, possibly delusional amount of method to Theo Epstein's madness: it strikes me that a couple of things are possible, and maybe both simultaneously:

It seems to me the second is much less likely than the first, given the Cubs are widely known to be in rebuilding mode, but if you are going to post a throw-in, why not give him some exposure? A risk worth taking, in other words.

If that was the point of today's outing for Hunter Cervenka or Neil Ramirez, it did both a brief glimmer of good, and therefore the team; but the frustrations of the 2014 Cubs are quite obvious. It strikes me likely they will lose 100 games, which will set a postwar record for that franchise of losing 90 games or more three years running for the first time. (The last time they had done that was 1928-1930.) It is genuinely disturbing that one of the game's marquee clubs should get beaten down so; but the world is different since Theo took over the club, as this Grantland piece ably demonstrates. While I remain a Dodger partisan in the National League, I am here with my wife to watch the Cubs, and root for them. We count the days until they return to competence.

MLB.com box

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Dr. Frank Jobe Passes

Covered in many, many other places (especially Twitter), but Dr. Frank Jobe died at age 88, from causes undisclosed. If there is some reason he is not in the Hall of Fame, I do not know it.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

The Dodgers Board The Sinking RSN Revenues Boat As The Yankees Clamber Off

It's been a long offseason, and I've felt little to nothing newsworthy to write about; the Angels moves are largely an afterthought of two consecutive offseasons of disaster, between the Pujols and Hamilton contracts, with only the former ending before the decade does. Whether, as Matt Welch intimated in his writeup in this year's Baseball Prospectus, this is the fault of owner Arte Moreno or of GM Jerry Dipoto, the contracts are now inked and indisputable and due, sunk costs. It is not insignificant that the Angels have two of Grantland's 15 worst contracts in MLB.

But it is now Go time for the Dodgers. If the Angels have bad player deals, it is because their shiny new Fox Sports contract enabled them to spend stupidly and big. The Dodgers decided they needed to one-up the Angels, and in an effort to do so, launched their own cable TV network. In this, they followed the Yankees, who created YES Network in 1999. But, as happened in San Diego (also this), and to a lesser degree, Houston, the Dodgers now find their own greed locking them away from the fans they claimed they wanted to reach.

The cable operator is optimistic that it will have wide distribution by the time the Dodgers' regular season starts March 22.

"We're coming off a tremendous season and interest in Dodger baseball is at an all-time high," Time Warner Cable Sports President David Rone said.

But that may be wishful thinking.

Many distributors are upset about being pressured to carry a new sports network in a region that already has several similar channels, including not only Prime Ticket but also Fox Sports West, Pac-12 Los Angeles and Time Warner Cable's SportsNet and Deportes.

"It is really hard to understand why everyone needs their own channel when they didn't need one before," said Andy Albert, senior vice president of content acquisition for Cox Communications.

Those channels, along with ESPN, cost customers as much as $20 a month whether they watch them or not. The Dodgers channel threatens to dramatically increase that figure.

I will not be surprised to learn there is a considerable amount of pushback among the cable operators, who weary of downside cable-cutting should prices escalate too high. And there are signs that we have reached the moment of collapse.

Joe Kennedy, the bootlegger and patriarch of that political family, famously got out of the stock market when even cabbies and shoeshine boys started giving him stock tips. So we begin to suspect the jig is up on cable TV networks when the likes of icon YES Network sells itself to Fox. Why might they do such a thing?

One of the next things on the YES Network's to-do list is to negotiate a new carriage contract with Time Warner Cable, one of the largest cable operators in the New York metro region. Time Warner Cable has said the channel's distribution agreement is about to expire.

Some have speculated that the negotiation process could be ticklish because Fox and Time Warner Cable have clashed in the past. Fox lost the rights to televise L.A. Lakers and Dodgers games after Time Warner Cable agreed to pay the teams substantially more than Fox had been paying.

In other words, the Yankees still get the benefits of operating a RSN without the headaches of having to extract revenue from cable operators. This, to me, is the rats leaving the sinking ship -- with the Dodgers viewing such a ship as their salvation. One expects one of those views will prevail, and it isn't the Dodgers'. Well, it wouldn't be the first time the Bombers proved better than the Bums.

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