MLB Reportedly Approves SNLA, Mainly To Funnel Dollars To Clayton Kershaw

dodger_money_tvWe’ve been waiting for a long time for Clayton Kershaw to finally sign that extension, and yesterday he finally did. And yet if this is even possible, that’s not the news from the last 24 hours that I think we’ve been waiting on the most. Bill Shaikin explains:

MLB has approved the Dodgers’ deal with TWC, two people familiar with the matter said Wednesday. Although there has been no announcement, the Dodgers have hired on-air talent for the new channel — including former players Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra — and have reached agreement with MLB about how much television revenue the team would share with the league.

Mark Walter, the Dodgers’ controlling owner, said documentation had delayed formal league approval of a deal to which both parties agreed long ago.

“Our understanding with MLB has not changed in months and months,” Walter said. “I never felt it was in any way hostile.”

First off: finally. That’s great news, since pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, and the lack of updates over the last few months was somewhat shocking. Shaikin adds that SNLA plans to air every spring training game, which is fantastic and, I believe, unprecedented. (Of course, whether you’ll be able to see any of those games is an open question; there’s still the endless fight about the channel’s carriage with DirecTV and U-verse and everyone else to get through, and as we saw with the Lakers in 2012, those battles tend to be drawn-out and ugly.)

While neither Kershaw’s deal nor MLB approval of SNLA have been officially announced yet, there’s just absolutely no way that the timing here is a coincidence. A month ago, when we were all getting panicky about Kershaw remaining unsigned, I spitballed a few possible reasons for the delay. This was one of them:

3) The Dodgers are waiting on the SNLA deal to be officially announced.

Despite the fact that we keep hearing new names being added to the team — ABC’s John Hartung is reportedly the latest — you’ll notice that there is, as of yet, not an official deal in place, or at least not one that has been approved by MLB. We keep hearing that it will be, but even when it is, there’s going to be some messy carriage fights with providers. Considering just how much a Kershaw deal is likely to cost, it’s theoretically possible that the team prefers to know for sure, in officially approved writing, that all the billions they’ve been banking on are actually coming in.

A month later, both are happening — or at least, reported to be done or close to it — within hours of one another. I’m having a real hard time believing those two things have nothing to do with one another, though Shaikin says that the MLB deal was agreed to long ago and just not announced yet.

Anyway, 48 hours ago Kershaw didn’t have a deal and the TV situation was up in the air. The carriage fight looms, but we have a lot more clarity and resolution on both situations. Not a bad few days, as far as days go.

 

Looking Ahead to the 2014 SNLA Broadcast Team

collins_lyons_coloradoI’ve been meaning to point this out all week, so this is a few days beyond “fresh”, but one of the more underrated aspects of the September schedule featuring almost exclusively NL West opponents is that the Dodgers don’t leave California or Arizona for the rest of the regular season. That means that last Friday’s game in Cincinnati was the final one featuring the “road team” of Eric Collins & Steve Lyons; for the rest of the year we get a whole lot of Vin Scully, and that’s a great thing. (It’d be better if we got him in the playoffs too, but that’s another story entirely.)

But what about next year? We know that Scully will be returning when SNLA gets going, but we also know that Lyons does not have a contract at this point. That doesn’t mean that he definitely won’t be back, just that there’s not a contractual obligation right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the same situation for Collins.

I find Collins bland if otherwise inoffensive, though I know many don’t agree. On the other hand, my aversion to Lyons is long known, if only because of how much he loves wins and saves and bunts and grit and heart. But it’s also because of things like this, this, this, or especially this from 2011, which was wonderful if only because myself, Eric Stephen, & Jon Weisman all simultaneously found ourselves dumbstruck that Lyons noted the Cardinals were somehow under more pressure to retain Albert Pujols because Stan Musial was going to die soon. Just wonderful.

I recognize that liking or disliking announcers is somewhat subjective, and so that’s a very personal choice. But it should be pointed out that when FanGraphs ran a reader poll last year on each team’s broadcasters, this duo came in ahead of only the insufferable White Sox homer Ken Harrelson, so it’s not just me. The Dodgers can do better, especially if being the road-only guy is seen as being a stepping stone to a full-time gig once the day finally comes that Scully calls it a career. But really, this is less about Collins & Lyons specifically than it is about the type of broadcaster I’d like to see.

Knowing me, you’d expect that I want a guy who is 110% “KILL THE WIN!” and speaks only in terms of WAR and wOBA. But that’s not really true, actually. If doing this blog for so long has taught me anything, it’s that the way we consume baseball — reading blogs, following Twitter, etc — is somewhat in the minority. Most fans don’t watch baseball like we do, and to have someone like that would turn off the masses. I’d love it if those things were included slowly just to gain familiarity, but I’m really not asking for a broadcast where batting average or ERA are never shown. It’s just not realistic.

Really, it’s not so much about an announcer who says “more smart things,” as far as I’m concerned, just “less dumb things”. Get me a guy who merely knows enough to not put emphasis on wins, saves, and RBIs. An announcer who recognizes the foolishness of the bunt, and knows how silly the words “gritty” and “gamer” can sound. Someone who can tell the story of the game while also not getting excited that every short pop to left field is going to be a 700 foot homer. The days of the one-man booth will die with Scully, so I’m fine with the “broadcaster/former player” combination that Collins & Lyons represent… it just has to be the right people.

I don’t know who that is exactly, yet. I know it’s not Lyons, and I’m relatively sure it’s not Collins. But as the new network launches next year, there’s going to be a lot of eyes (and ears) on who is calling the non-Scully games. It’s an opportunity for change, and it’s truly important that the right choices be made.

Say Hello to “SportsNet LA”; Billions of Dollars

dodger_money_tvBig news this morning — Time Warner and the Dodgers have officially announced their deal, so get used to saying “SportsNet LA”. From the press release:

The Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group created American Media Productions, LLC (AMP) in December 2012 to launch a new Los Angeles Dodgers regional sports network. Today, AMP announced its plans for SportsNet LA, the new regional television home for the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning with the 2014 Major League Baseball season. In addition to being the exclusive local home for all of the Dodger games, SportsNet LA will provide comprehensive behind-the-scenes Dodger programming, featuring more insights, analysis and commentary about the team than ever available before.

“SportsNet LA” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue — I’m guessing that much like how “SportsNet New York” is only ever referred to as “SNY”, this is going to be “SLA” or “SNLA” — but it’s an interesting choice of name. When Frank McCourt originally had this idea several years ago, he’d had the name “DTV” (i.e., “Dodger TV”) in mind, and the lack of Dodger branding here could indicate that there’s going to be more than just baseball on this channel. Not that I really have a problem with that; if the Dodgers are the primary tenant, then who cares if we’re seeing the Galaxy or UCLA or high school sports or whomever they sign up to fill some air space in the dead zone.

Back to the release..

Mark Walter, Chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said, “We concluded last year that the best way to give our fans what they want – more content and more Dodger baseball – was to launch our own network. The creation of AMP will provide substantial financial resources over the coming years for the Dodgers to build on their storied legacy and bring a World Championship home to Los Angeles. Just as we are actively transforming the team and the stadium, we want the Dodgers to be exhibited on the very best sports network in the country – one that will provide an unrivaled fan experience.”

Todd Boehly, a principal owner of AMP, said, “We are greatly pleased that Time Warner Cable, the largest distributor in the marketplace, has come aboard to support the Dodgers and SportsNet LA as our charter distributor. Their presence in Los Angeles will be invaluable in helping us serve Dodger fans and our community with excellence.”

“We are delighted to support the Dodgers and their ownership group in their launch of SportsNet LA. The Dodgers have one of the most passionate and loyal audiences in sports, and we look forward to helping deliver this new network to their fans,” said David Rone, President of Time Warner Cable Sports. “This deal, like our Lakers’ deal, furthers our efforts to attain greater certainty and control over local and regional sports programming costs.”

Not pictured: FOX crying in the fetal position in the corner.

Here’s what we still don’t know:

1) The final dollar amount. I’m guessing the number falls in the $7-$8 billion range over 25 years, which, wow.

2) Who/how it’s being carried. The release indicates that Time Warner “will carry the new network for its customers throughout Southern California and Hawaii under a long-term affiliation deal”. If you live in those areas and already have Time Warner, you’re probably set, albeit with a slightly higher cable bill. What’s unclear at this point is how it will land for everyone else; other cable carriers in California will have to negotiate to carry this channel — an often contentious prospect, as we’ve seen with the Lakers, Padres, and several others — and fans outside of the area are still a very open question. It’s possible that it also lands on a satellite network or some other national carrier (I get Cubs games on WGN for some reason in my cable package) but those are still details to be worked out. Point is, it’s too soon for hand-wringing, much of which I’ve already seen.

3) The fate of free over-the-air games. I’ve long assumed that the weekly free games on KCAL would be dead, and no, that’s not greed — that’s an industry trend that’s been happening for years. A few days ago Bill Shaikin indicated the Dodgers were considering discussing a smaller deal with FOX that would keep some amount of games on free TV, but there’s no mention of it here. In fact, the press release calls the new network “the exclusive local home” of all games, so that’s probably our answer right there.

4) MLB approval. At the bottom of the release is a small line, nearly an afterthought. “The agreement with TWC is subject to certain closing conditions”. Shaikin reports that the hangup here is that the Dodgers still need to settle with MLB on how much of this deal is subject to revenue sharing, an issue we’ve been hearing about for some time. That’s still to be determined, though I’m guessing it won’t be so much of a problem that MLB would actually stand in the way of a deal that is A) now publicly announced and B) about to raise the valuation of the sport significantly.

More to come on this, no doubt. What a great time to be a Dodger fan.