Dodgers pitching dominant, but Phils fans better off than Dodgers fans

A no-witness no-hitter? - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies might be playing sub-par baseball, but at least we can watch them play it. The Dodgers serve as a cautionary tale of what might have been with a larger TV deal.

The Phillies won 73 games last season and were eliminated from playoff contention on September 14th. The Dodgers won 92 games last year. Those 92 wins were good enough to win the National League West by 11 games, and led to the Dodgers defeating the Braves in the NLDS though their season came to an end as they lost to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

The Phillies currently have a sub-.500 record, field one of the oldest teams in the league, and have a dearth of MLB-ready talent in the upper levels of their minor league system; in other words, help is not on the way. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are coming off a very good year, have some of the most exciting young players in the game, headed by the oft [wrongly] maligned Yasiel Puig and the best pitcher in the game who just turned 26, and are again in the hunt.

Despite these facts, Phillies fans are currently better off than Dodgers fans, because of this next fact:

The Phillies signed a 25-year, $2.5 billion television contract extension with Comcast this winter, while the Dodgers signed a 25-year, $8 billion dollar television contract with Time Warner Cable the previous winter. That might not sound like a point in Phillies' fans favor, but so far it has been.

As most readers of this site who haven't been able to suppress the memory know, the Phillies were no-hit by Josh Beckett and the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday night. Last night, the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu followed up Beckett's no-hitter by taking a perfect game into the 8th inning of their contest against the Reds. They would go on to win the game 4-3, bringing their record to 28-24, four games ahead of the Phillies current 22-26 record. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, the majority of them couldn't see it happen. (Emphasis mine)

Time Warner Cable, which operates SportsNet LA, the team-owned all-Dodgers station that launched in February, still doesn't have distribution agreements with DirecTV, Cox, Charter Communications, Verizon, Dish or AT&T. That means the games are available only to Time Warner Cable subscribers and two other smaller providers in the region, with more than 63 percent of the market in the dark.

Dan York, vice president for programming for DirecTV, which provides pay TV to roughly one-quarter of the Los Angeles market, said Time Warner Cable is asking for about twice what most regional sports networks cost providers.

"Time Warner Cable did an unprecedented deal and now they expect all their competitors to bankroll that deal," York told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "That includes the customers who have no interest in watching the Dodgers, and that's not fair to millions of families."

Even games carried nationally, aside from ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and Saturday games on Fox Sports One, are blacked out locally.

The Dodgers lead the major leagues in attendance, with an average of 46,194 tickets sold for 22 home games, but an average of just 43,000 households are watching their games on TWC, according to Nielsen ratings, a drop of nearly 72 percent from last season, when games were carried by a Fox-owned station."

If a pitcher throws a gem but nobody can tune in to watch, is it really all that exciting? There are business ramifications here, namely that if the Time Warner fails to get enough carriage agreements in place it's possible that the channel loses too much money to remain viable and they face bankruptcy, CSN Houston -style. But as much as I might be the TGP version of Darren Rovell I don't find that nearly as important or interesting as the overall picture here.

In their perhaps shortsighted quest to achieve the apotheosis of baseball television deals the Dodgers have managed to distance themselves from the very people they rely on for their existence. Erecting a financial wall between the team and its fans -- and potential future fans -- is not an ideal situation. The Dodgers have storied history of being among baseball's forerunners in the expansion of fan-generating frontiers, including their breaking of the color barrier with Jackie Robinson and their acquisitions of foreign-born players like Fernando Valenzuela, Hideo Nomo, and the aforementioned Puig. Those types of talents will mean little to the next generation of fans if they've not cultivated an emotional connection to the team because they've been unable to watch them.

This is what the modern game has become, and to deny that business considerations take first priority is to deny the economic reality of today's sports world-and of today's United States, if you wish to be more inclusive. That said, the singular focus on extracting every last dollar from your customers can lead to situations like this, in which the fan experience is diminished, if not entirely extinguished among some. People will find different options for their entertainment and their dollars if one becomes too difficult to obtain. For a business that relies on a seemingly-illogical emotional connection between team an fan, that's a dangerous gamble to take.

For as bright as the Dodgers' future looks right now, with the seemingly unlimited coffers and steady pipeline of talent, Phillies fans are currently better off than Dodgers fans because we can actually watch the team we care about play baseball. If you're a true fan of the Phillies (as opposed to merely a fan of winning), that's all that should matter. Sure, there are times that we might wish we couldn't see what's happening down at Citizens Bank Park, but make no mistake, for most of us, watching bad baseball is better than watching no baseball.

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