Saturday, April 14, 2012

TV stalemate

The message to Padres fans is clear:  No one is looking out for you.

Not the owner of the team.

Not major league baseball.

Not the new TV network broadcasting your team's games, or the cable distributors haggling with the new TV network.

You're on your own. That's what the message is.

Want to watch the Padres on TV?

You're out of luck if you subscribe to two of the three big cable operators in San Diego County. Go to a restaurant or bar if you'd like to watch the game there, but you'll be spending money on top of your monthly cable bill.

You could subscribe to MLB's Web site, but if you live in San Diego County, the Padres games there will be blacked out.

You were told that the fistfight over TV dollars would be resolved by Opening Day, or soon after.

It hasn't been.

You were told that MLB would approve the Padres' $1.2 billion TV deal in March or the first week of the season.

It hasn't done so.

"Talk to the Padres," an MLB official told me this week when I asked why the $1.2 billion deal still hasn't been approved by the league.

"Talk to John Moores or the lawyers," a Padres official told me.

Moores, the team's owner, didn't respond to my interview requests. In a teleconference with reporters this week, Moores was vague when asked when Padres telecasts will be available to a larger share of San Diego County's cable households.

The Padres say it's not their fault that a deal hasn't been reached between Fox Sports San Diego, which is their new TV broadcast partner, and either Time Warner or AT&T U-verse, two distributors whose subscriber bases combined account for about 40 percent of the county's cable households.

MLB says the same, telling me that negotiations between cable providers are "hand to hand combat."

In other markets, however, rivals Fox and Time Warner have broken bread together.

By playing inept baseball since Opening Day, the Padres have weakened Fox's bargaining position.

As it was, Fox's rivals didn't have to consult Peter Gammons while hedging their bets. The Padres entered this season with the lowest payroll in the majors, one year after Forbes declared them the league's most profitable team for 2010 (a report the Padres said wasn't close to being accurate).

It didn't bode well for a fast start to this season  when the team's front office found no takers for the team's overpaid middle infielders, Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett, during the offseason. Even so, the fancy farm system had no one exciting who could replace either Bartlett or Hudson, who, three series into the season, haven't shown signs of turning their careers around. "The Padres need to clean up their middle infield or it will be a dreadful, long season that is really hard on the eyes," a scout told me today.

The front office's $6 million gamble that slugger Carlos Quentin would stay healthy backfired one week into spring training, when a knee flared up. Quentin had surgery, pushing back his Padres debut until later this month if not May.

FS San Diego's bargaining position appears sticky, considering that the rights fee owed the Padres this year is nearly double what Cox paid last year. Should the regional network lower its price to Time Warner and AT&T U-verse? And if it does, would it then have to lower the price agreed to with Cox, which has been carrying Fox's telecasts since mid-March? Or, should Fox play a waiting game in anticipation of the Padres generating more interest?

Even if the Padres do perk up in, say, May, a month that has been kind to them many times in the past decade, one wonders how many fans will be paying attention. An industry that takes its customers for granted is asking to lose its customers.

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  1. I'll be paying attention and will switch to Cox by the end of May regardless of the Padres performance. Which is ironic, because I feel like in the end, the Padres and MLB are probably in a position to resolve the issue most. I suspect their agreement with FSSD presumed all of San Diego would have access to the TV broadcast. Are they so cold-hearted that they would sacrifice the long term benefit of exposing games to the majority of San Diego subscribers (*proven* by the old Cox contract) for the massive cash reportedly involved in the FSSD deal? Rhetorical question, I guess. The answer appears to be yes; otherwise, I suspect they would lean on FSSD to settle deal with AT&T and Time Warner.

  2. evinmod, interesting comments. It appears Bud Selig doesn't view this stalemate worthy of invoking his "best interest of baseball" powers.

  3. Good stuff, The Padres are an owner of FFSD so it's all on them. They don't care, they are getting paid big.
    You left out the fact that they failed to sign 14 game winner Harang, an Aztec who is lightin it up now for the Dodgers. they had a 5 mil option on his contract and let him get away to the Dodgers for 4 mil. He has numbers equal to Ted Lilly at 14 mil. They spent 8 mil on Street to close What ? Quentin damaged goods and kotsay ?