Another season of Dodgers baseball

It’s that time of year, Spring training has finished, the extravagant exhibition games are over and the Major League Baseball season has finally begun. As an Englishman, I’ve tried to quantify what is the equivalent of say, soccer football being the UK’s national sport. It’s a tough one, since in terms of when they’re played the NFL is probably more like premiership football and baseball might be considered an equivalent to cricket. Except baseball is a religion here, much more than cricket is in the UK. Maybe it’s more how cricket is regarded in places like India and Pakistan – out there it’s definitely a religion. Australia too, the AFL/Rugby League/Rugby Union [select according to state] is about equally as popular as cricket.

However, nothing unites any country in the world quite like an international cricket match unites all of Australia. It’s incredible, it’s like every ripped-shirt-wearing, VB-drinking thug in every bar fight across the continent suddenly makes peace with whoever it was they were punching the face of just because Hawthorne beat Geelong in the final. They embrace, smile, order a cucumber sandwich and watch England get annihilated in the Ashes.

In addition, baseball is played much more at a recreational level, especially compared to NFL, for obvious reasons. Families go and watch little Johnny hit a home run for the local team on bank holidays more much than they go and watch little Johnny get utterly pulverised by a ‘tight end’ twice his size. I’m not quite sure where all this leaves basketball and the NBA, oh well.

One of the biggest stories to surround the 2014 season of Los Angeles baseball is the team’s new TV channel. For the first time, the Dodgers have taken their games off free, over-the-air TV. They used to have about one game a week on KCAL, but this season, they went the route of other marquee sports franchises – like the Yankees and the Lakers – and created their own regional sports network, SportsNet LA.

None of the area’s major pay-TV distributors – DirecTV, Dish, FiOS, U-Verse, Charter and Cox – have agreements to carry SportsNet LA. Time Warner Cable has about 1.5 million subscribers in the area and covers 30% of the region, which leaves 70% in the lurch. That includes sports bars. Many have only DirecTV, and the satellite service is yet to cut a deal with Time Warner Cable for SportsNet LA. Although the Dodgers own SportsNet LA, Time Warner Cable is the channel’s distribution partner.

Needless to say, this has angered many die-hard Dodgers fans.

But you know what…I have little sympathy. So, you have to fork out to watch your favourite team play, big deal. It’s not that different to having to pay for Sky Sports back home when they secure rights to just the England games of the Six-Nations, for example. Or in Abu Dhabi, where you had to subscribe to Al Jazeera Sports 4 to watch the Six Nations and then the following year it was on Al Jazeera Sports 6 – which meant having to pay for a whole new channel. This has been happening around the world since the dawn of time. Neanderthal man made fire by rubbing two sticks together and not long after he thought about screwing TV subscribers over by securing exclusive rights to sports games.

I mean this is how the Dodgers are able to sign pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a $215 million deal and assemble the richest roster in baseball. Yes, they’ve overtaken the Yankees. The Time Warner deal is worth more than $8 billion dollars over 25 years and the Dodgers are guaranteed most of the money from Time Warner, whether the subscriber deals are in place or not. I’ve also heard Dodgers Stadium ticket prices have gone up this year.

So, yeah, big deal. Who cares if you have to pay an additional cost to watch the local team games on TV.

But all that changed when I couldn’t watch a Kings game last week.

It’s worth noting here that I’m quite a big LA Kings fan. I first saw them play on my first visit to Los Angeles in January 2000. Then many years later I was lucky enough to get corporate hospitality seats at the O2 when the Kings and Ducks played in London in 2007. I even got to kiss the coveted Stanley Cup.

This is ice hockey by the way, or NHL as it’s known out here. Possibly the least favourite national sport in terms of popularity, perhaps a little bit like rugby. But the reason I couldn’t watch the game was because it was being shown on the NBC Sports Network and not on Fox Sports West, like they normally are, and my basic TV package with Time Warner Cable doesn’t include NBCSN.

Since I follow the LA Kings on Twitter I posted a tweet asking why that last game was on NBC and in fact, the next game? To which they replied “A few games every year are on NBC Sports Network. Most of the playoff games are as well.” Holy crap, the playoff games are shown on NBC…and I don’t have that?! Why on Earth do they switch networks, I asked. “The majority of our games are on Fox Sports, but we play a few games on NBC Sorts every season.” They replied, totally failing to answer my question.

I’m actually a long-time subscriber to the service that allows me to watch games from overseas – that’s how much of a fan I am, so I thought I’d try that…except that’s another nightmare. Because I’m in the same country, in this case the USA and my IP address reflects this, I can’t watch the game until 48 hours after. This didn’t happen in London…because I was in London, but trying to watch it in the US conflicts with network agreements and so on and so forth. And what were the chances I’d be able to avoid the final score on social media for two days?!

I went fucking bananas. I resent the fact that you have to pay an additional cost to be able to watch the local team games on TV.

I phoned Time Warner Cable to find out how much it would be to add NBC Sports Network to my TV package, it turns out I have to pay an extra $9 every month. This was an absolute outrage and I knew just how the baseball fans felt. I couldn’t just pay for the one channel to be added, oh no, I had to add a whole new package, probably full of channels that utterly meaningless to me, like MTV and the Mexican Home Shopping Channel equivalent. It’s the same principle, there’s no way Dodgers disciples should have to fork out for a whole channel – or worse, a whole new service provider. Even Virgin offers access to Sky Sports in the UK. But for anyone not with Time Warner, they’ll have to ditch their existing provider and sign up with the new one.

Last year the Dodgers had a strong season and it must have been great to be sitting in a bar surrounded by fellow fans enjoying their teams success live on TV. Only a fraction of sports bars have the right provider set up to now offer that. People love to hate cable companies, but they also hate paying higher cable prices. The new Dodgers owners have built up a lot of support from fans after investing heavily in the team and the ballpark and doing things like lowering parking (which is now being raised if you don’t buy online).

As for me, well there was no way I was missing the last few Kings games of the regular season, not to mention the playoffs, so I had little choice. I signed up to new package that include the all-important NBC Sports Network…turns out it includes the new Dodgers channel.

Stanley Cup

Kissing the coveted Stanley Cup at the O2 Arena in 2007 when the LA Kings played the Anaheim Ducks in London

Follow Londoner in LA on Twitter at @londonerinla