Amid greed that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.
The Dodgers TV blackout has been lifted.
After six years of the Dodgers allowing more than half of Los Angeles to sit in the dark, Spectrum Networks has reached an agreement to carry SportsNet LA on AT&T video platforms that include DirecTV, AT&T TV, U-Verse TV and AT&T Now.
When and if games return this summer, many folks throughout the city will finally be able to watch the Dodgers without pirating a signal.
“Hallelujah!” read one Wednesday morning text message from a fan who suddenly had the Dodgers station at her fingertips. Truly, this is worth celebrating.
But it is impossible to rejoice without also recognizing the scars of the most damaging monetary feud in this city’s sports history, a battle pitting the Dodgers’ billions against the wishes of local folks who just wanted to watch their favorite team.
It is irresponsible to ignore the smoking wreckage left behind, namely the legacy of a Dodgers ownership group that could have avoided this mess long ago with the stroke of a pen.
The blackout occurred after the Dodgers signed a record 25-year, $8.35-billion television deal with Time Warner Cable in 2013. In an effort to recoup its huge investment, TWC and later Charter Communications charged the sort of carriage fee that DirecTV and later AT&T would not pay.
The Dodgers could have reworked the deal to make it more cable-friendly, but would not. Ownership was criticized continually for this inaction over the last six years, but would never relent. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti refused to get involved. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred ran from the controversy. Many fans endured six straight summers of TV screens without the Dodgers until the team suddenly appeared during the playoffs.
There is no clear indication yet as to why there is a deal now, but chances are it involves this country’s economic crisis and the specter of upcoming games being played in empty stadiums because of the pandemic. When sports returns, it will seemingly be a great time to be in the sports TV business, and perhaps that contributed to the end of the stalemate.
There are many reasons to applaud what has been gained by millions, but equally as many reasons for remorse over what the blackout cost.
The final years of Vin Scully, lost. The golden age of Clayton Kershaw, lost. Six summers of division-championship baseball, lost.
The blackout had become so enduring, it outlived folks whom it affected most.
In 2015, I wrote a column on Jim Ballard, a 94-year-old World War II veteran from Carpinteria whose life was centered on watching the Dodgers every night on television … until the blackout robbed him of his greatest pleasure.
“It’s like my team just forgot all about me,” he said at the time.
In 2018, I wrote another column on Ballard. He died of a massive stroke at age 97. He died still longing for the summer night when the Dodgers would return to his TV screen.
“My grandfather could never understand why he couldn’t just turn on the TV and the Dodgers would appear,” said John McCoy, his grandson and caregiver. “There’s so much money involved, why do the Dodgers have to do this to their fans?”
On Wednesday, the fans finally triumphed. It happened six years too late amid circumstances that were far too avoidable, but a win is a win. Hallelujah indeed.