UPDATED: Thursday, 5 p.m.
Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president of business operations, isn’t blind to the fact there could be misguided blame heaped onto the team by default because of its connection to the launch of the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
Problem is, she can’t see the new channel, either. It’s not on her DirecTV service.
Her strategy: Wait it out.
“To me, it brings back memories of moving from the Forum to Staples Center in 1999,” she said today. “Our fans were concerned about the traffic, about the sightlines — even about the hotdogs. One fan said he wanted to ‘keep the seats they had at the Forum’ and we had to explain they could but that the Lakers wouldn’t be playing there. Fortunately, the Lakers won a championship our first year at Staples Center and assured our fans we could be successful in a new environment.
“I am hoping the move to a new broadcast home will follow that same championship pattern.”
The $3 billion, 20-year deal TWC deal provides the Lakers with plenty of flexability to exceed the NBA’s salary cap and be prepared for the luxury taxes that they will incur not just this year but in seasons to come.
But it also puts a large target on the team’s back when fans who aren’t TWC subscribers for the time being may feel marginalized in the process since the SportsNet and Deportes channels launched on Monday.
Buss has a backup plan when she’s not actually at a Lakers game – head over to former Lakers coach and still boyfriend Phil Jackson’s apartment in Playa del Rey to watch on his TWC service, likely starting with the first exhibition game Sunday in Fresno against Golden State.
The Lakers’ Oct. 30 season opener at home against Dallas is exclusive to TNT, but the second game, Oct. 31 at Portland on Halloween night, may scare the bejesus out of fans who don’t have the channel by then.
TWC execs insist they need as many other cable systems to come on board for its investment to pay off. The reported asking price of $3.95 per subscriber per system provides the largest hurdle.
It behooves DirecTV, Dish, Charter, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse and Cox to wait things out until actual Lakers games begin. DirecTV, for example, stands to save itself a couple hundred thousand dollars every day until the end of the month. (And for those who think they can get around this by having the NBA League Pass, it won’t work — local games are blacked out).
Today, TWC announced its first deal — Bright House Communications, a company that serves homes in Central California.
DirecTV spokesman Bob Mercer says his company and TWC, as the two largest TV providers in L.A., “share a responsibility to ensure that both sports fans and non-sports fans alike avoid any extraordinary increases to their families’ monthly bills. We plan to carry TWC SportsNet in a way that is affordable for everyone.”
Dish Network, which joined TWC as a provider of the Pac-12 Network – one that DirecTV continues to resist, despite its 80-cent subscriber charge – is talking with TWC “but we will only come to an agreement if the programming is offered at a good value for our customers,” Dish spokesperson John Hall said.
Viewers who panic might go to the IWantMyLakers.com link off the Lakers’ home webpage, find an offer sitting there for a $200 Visa Reward Card “when you switch to Time Warner Cable,” and take the bait.
Buss says she realizes this whole changing of channels away from KCAL-Channel 9 and Fox Sports West after decades of service is “sensative situation” – the Lakers were one of the last teams to keep a free, over-the-air network as part of its broadcast strategy. She also sees confusion about whether the team appears to be asking fans to switch service providers.
“That’s not true,” she said. “I’ve made it a point to say I’m DirecTV subscriber for a long time and I’m confident that one of the most sports-centric platforms that has provided Lakers games to me in the past will want to continue that through their service.
“As an organization, we spent many months considering our options and carefully weighing every implication knowing that change is difficult for everyone including our fans. Ultimately we wanted to be on one home and have the ability to deliver more in depth Lakers content to our fans besides just the pregame, postgame and the actual game.
“The move wasn’t an impulsive decision nor one taken lightly, it was important piece to the future success of the Lakers team and to serving Lakers fans more content with state of the art technology in English and Spanish.”
We shall see. Or, for now, maybe not.
The Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes channels by the numbers:
1: Cable or dish companies, other than TWC, that have the channels despite negotiations over the last several months. That’s a deal done today with Bright House Commincations, which serves customers in Bakersfield.
3.95: Price, in dollars, TWC is reported to be asking other providers to pay per customer for the two channels. This is said to be the second most expensive regional sports network in the country, after Comcast SportsNet Washington ($4.02).
8: Lakers exhibition games on TWC SportsNet, starting with Sunday in Fresno, through Oct. 25.
70: Lakers’ regular-season games set for SportsNet and Deportes (58 of them are exclusive).
24: Lakers’ regular-season games accessible through TNT, ESPN or ABC.
2: Lakers’ regulars-season games that will be on Prime Ticket against the Clippers. (Of the four matchups, Nov. 2 and Jan. 4 are both Prime and ESPN; Feb. 14 is TNT and April 7 is ABC). There is also one exhibition game on Prime on Oct. 24.
3.1 million: Non-TWC subscribers in L.A., including 1 million who are with DirecTV. The others are primarily with Dish Network, Charter, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse or Cox.
1.7 million: Time Warner Cable subscribers in L.A.
686,000: Residents in L.A. that have neither dish nor cable, but get their TV signal from free antenna, the highest number in any market in the nation. They are the ones most affected by no more Lakers games on KCAL-Channel 9.