Mexican Standoff: TV Scandal Hangs Over LA Dodgers As They Chase World Series

When baseball journeyman Kyle Farmer stepped up to the plate, the Los Angeles Dodgers were already in the midsts of a historic run. Winners of 18 of their last 20, LA found itself down 2-1 in the bottom of the 11th. Farmer roped an opposite field shot to the right field corner — in his first at-bat — bringing in two runs. It was another come-from-behind win, the 31st up to that point. It would also be the Dodgers 39th win in 45 games. For all intents and purposes, this was one of the best games in a magical season. But was anyone paying attention?

Due to a five-year dispute, most people in Los Angeles will get their first opportunity to watch a Dodger game in the postseason, six months after the season started.

DirecTV and the Dodgers-owned cable channel,SportsNetLA are in a stalemate. DirecTV refusing to pay a premium to air the Dodgers. The company stating it has not suffered any great loss of customers by refusing to carry SportsNet LA. The price too high for a channel too few viewers would watch. SportsNet LA, on the other hand, is not interested in offering a discount from an $8.35 billion television deal.

It all equates to a 104-win Dodger team with one of the lowest television audiences in America.

Over 18 million people live in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. SportsNet LA averages around 70 thousand viewers per game. That is less than one percent of the population. To put that in perspective, the Dodgers average around 50 thousand per game in attendance. Meaning, there are probably games where there are more people at Chavez Ravine than watching at home.

Los Angeles is and has been for almost 40 years a Lakers town. Eight NBA Finals appearances in the 80s. 10 championships since Magic Johnson won his first in 1980. Even now, when the Lakers are finishing every year in the lottery, they still carry the buzz into the offseason and dominate sports headlines into October when the regular season starts. But in a city that loves drama and “Hollywood endings,” this particular Dodgers team has all the makings of one for the ages.

The Dodgers own the best 50 game stretch in Major League history. From June 7 — the start of their streak — through August 25 — when they lost 3 in a row for the first time all season — The Dodgers won 56 out of 66 games. The reached 90 wins in 126 games, an insane .714 win percentage.

Cody Bellinger will win the National League Rookie of the Year. Clayton Kershaw is still arguably the best pitcher in the game.  The roster is by-and-large one of the best ever assembled. They are the best team in baseball this year and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Yet ask around the city and more people are excited about the start of the NBA season than the Dodgers’ chances at a title.

Some of that might have to do with history. In that same time period of Lakers success since 1980, the Dodgers have won 13 National League West division titles, yet only two World Series titles to show for it. The other part may be that no one seems that interested in the Dodgers because they can’t find them on television.

For comparison, New York is the top market in the country (Los Angeles is second) and has their own network. The Yes Network, though, is widely available. Because of this, the Yankees average 350,000 viewers per game. That’s five times as much as Dodger games.

There’s another 21 years left on the current television deal. Neither side has shown any interest to budge on their position. The Dodgers have their money and will continue to use it to bolster the roster, make improvements within the infrastructure of the team and try and create the best franchise in baseball. The only people who stand to lose are the fans.

Can you blame the Dodgers and their front office? They are tasked with winning. The money they received in the TV deal has liberated spending to formulate the best roster in baseball. The Dodgers aren’t limited by ratings, or the next television contract concerns. Success is accomplished through winning in October. It’s their sole mission. A task they have failed at since Kirk Gibson rounded the bases.

That was 28 years ago.

Los Angeles’ major league baseball team has always tiptoed this line of iconic symbol of civic pride and becoming obsolete. Dodger blue is as synonymous with Los Angeles as Hollywood itself. The shift is real though. There’s plenty of games to watch on television and lure in a young fan. The Clippers, Galaxy, USC and UCLA all fight for eyeballs in the fall.

The infiltration of two NFL teams has also crowded the sports landscape. Does a team’s inability to enter your home inhibit its fan base’s ability to grow and continue generationally?

When the Lakers lose, there is a communal commiseration. When the Dodgers fail in the postseason, the city moves on. There’s USC and UCLA football. It’s basketball season. There’s more excitement in what the Lakers unknown future rather than what has become a failing fall tradition in Dodger baseball.

Regardless, many Angelenos will tune in during the postseason. Many will be watching the Dodgers for the first time. If they live up to the potential, Los Angeles will celebrate. It’s one of the things this town does best. If they don’t win the World Series, it will be one of the biggest flops in major league baseball history. A catastrophic fallure from a team that many were arguing whether or not they were the best baseball team in history.

Although it won’t feel that way in a city that is unable to follow its own team on television. Less exposure means fewer emotional ties to a group of players. Most will move on.

At the end of the day, it’s not Bellinger, Kershaw, Justin Turner or any Dodger that is on the tips of LA’s tongue as we head into October baseball. It’s Lonzo Ball.