Promoting an upcoming article on TV ratings within major league baseball, Sports Business Journal told reporters in San Diego that the Padres "are posting their lowest rating since at least 1996." This isn't surprising given that 40 percent of the San Diego TV market doesn't receive Fox Sports San Diego and Bud Black's team in April took up residence on the ocean floor, where it remained along with the Rockies, the Astros and assorted starfish.
The stalemate between FSSD and cable operators, notably Time Warner, created as much bluster as a Don King promotion. On behalf of their new TV partner, which had pledged to pay them close to $1 billion, Padres executives, whispering to an obliging media throughout spring training, predicted that Time Warner would "cave" about when the season began. Angry Padres fans were to call their cable provider and defect en masse to DirecTV.
It could be said Time Warner has shown it doesn't have a glass jaw, except how much force did the punch have? The Padres weren't a popular TV option leading up to the negotiations. Average TV ratings for Channel 4 San Diego's telecasts in 2011, at 3.4, were the lowest since the station began airing Padres games in 1997. The second-lowest rating, a 3.8, came two years earlier. If FSSD anticipated the 2012 Padres as buzz-creating upstarts, it did so in the face of a last-place performance in 2011 and published reports that the 2012 payroll would be among the lowest in the sport.
The Padres this year are receiving about $30 million from FSSD, nearly double last year's $15.2 million from Cox Communications. Thus, when I asked a major league exec to declare the winners and losers one half-season into the 20-year deal between FSSD and the Padres, he mentioned only the Padres as winners, and by extension their owner, John Moores, who reportedly is soon to sell the club for a hefty price. The executive depicted the outcome as a compromised victory, ringed with losers, primarily the fans.
"The Padres are winning in pure cash but are losing in fan coverage," the executive said. "Fox San Diego paid a lot of money. You have to ask if they're making money off the deal. I don't see it. The number of fans who can get the games is a fraction of what it was. And why would people sign up now for the winter content? I just don't know. It may just be that Fox views it from an extremely big picture."