If a pitcher threw a no-hitter but no one could watch it on television, did it really happen?
Josh Beckett, who pitches for my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, immediately became the best story of this young baseball season when he no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies this weekend. Any no-hitter is amazing, but this one was particularly unique as Beckett came back from serious surgery to become the second oldest pitcher to throw one. It was the first time it happened for a Dodgers pitcher since 1996.
It was an extraordinarily special moment to witness. I didn’t witness it though. I listened to it on the radio. Seriously, like it was 1962 and I was listening to Sandy Koufax instead of Josh Beckett – although I’m pretty sure Koufax’s no-hitters were televised too.
In a world where consumers are accustomed to having access to watch whatever they want whenever they want, the idea of having to listen to a game on the radio is hard to understand. I’ve watched NCAA tournament games on my phone while on the Tea Cups at Disneyland, I’ve watched football games while lying on the beach, and when my parents come to visit, they have an App to watch their Colorado Rockies, but I have no legal outlet to watch the Dodgers, because the App blacks out hometown games.
So, like 70% of other SoCal Dodgers fans, I heard but didn’t see this historic moment. Only 30% of fans in Southern California are able to watch the Dodgers telecasts on Time Warner SportsNet LA because of an ongoing dispute between Time Warner and every other major carrier in town.
This is nothing new – cable and satellite customers are now accustomed to being used as pawns in carriage disputes. Lear Center Director Marty Kaplan outlined the history and thinking behind these disputes last year during the Time Warner vs. CBS dispute, which CBS eventually won.
TV battles are the new normal for Southern California sports fans. Last year, DIRECTV customers went without Lakers games for the first two weeks of the season, and college sports fans who get DirecTV still haven’t been able to watch USC and UCLA games on the PAC-12 Network for close to two years now.
Coming into this season though, Dodgers fans thought for sure that a deal would be done before opening day. This is a team with the best pitcher in baseball (Clayton Kershaw), the most divisive player (Yasiel Puig) and all of the tools on paper to be a World Series favorite.
When a deal didn’t get done, the PR blame game started, and fans were encouraged by Time Warner to call their carrier to complain. My husband and I have called DIRECTV to complain during all previous TV battles; this is the usual result:
ME: I can’t believe we’re paying this much a month and we still don’t have [the network in question].
DIRECTV: I’m sorry, but it’s the fault of [the network]. They want to charge us too much for the channel, and we don’t want to have to raise your bill.
ME: Well, we need [this station], so I need to cancel our service.
DIRECTV: Let me transfer you to someone who will offer you hundreds of dollars in discounts and free services to keep you.
ME: OK, maybe I could live without [the network] for a little while.
The Dodgers battle is different though – we are now over 50 games into the season and there is no end in sight. The tone of our calls to DIRECTV is different, too – it seems like they have really drawn a line in the sand. Now, when we threaten to leave, there are no free offers and apologies. Instead they tell you what the astronomical cancellation fee is, and they make it clear that they are fully willing to lose customers over this.
They knew I was bluffing because they have an ace in the hole: they know most customers aren’t willing to lose out on football. They are the exclusive owners of NFL Sunday Ticket, which allows fans to watch every single game. The NFL is king in America, and as long as DIRECTV has that contract, they know they can diddle customers on everything else.
This should worry Time Warner and the Dodgers because while I am unwilling to miss any football games, I have learned to adjust to life without my favorite baseball team. Los Angeles has adjusted, too – this is an out of sight, out of mind type of town. The Kings are on their way to another Stanley Cup and the Clippers and Lakers both have enough drama to fill a telenovela. If the Dodgers don’t want to fade into the background anymore, it’s on them to make sure more great moments don’t have to be listened to on the radio.