SBD/February 16, 2011/Media

Are The Lakers Taking A Risk By Moving Most Games To Pay-TV Services?

Study finds Lakers to be the most popular sports team among U.S. Latinos
In striking a 20-year agreement with Time Warner Cable that begins in '12, the Lakers are "removing themselves from free TV for all but the occasional national network telecasts, a stunning move by a team whose popularity was built by the sort of grass-roots fans on whom they are pulling the plug," according to Bill Plashcke of the L.A. TIMES. Beginning with the '12-13 NBA season, "only those rare Lakers games found on ABC will be free, as most of the schedule will be accessible only through a pay-TV service -- cable or satellite providers such as Time Warner, DirecTV, Charter and Cox." Approximately 620,000 homes in the L.A. area "do not have a pay-TV service." But Lakers VP/PR John Black said, "We fully expect Time Warner to come up with a distribution plan to make our games available to the largest number of people." He added, "As technology changes the world, the number of people who only have over-the-air television is getting smaller and smaller. We have to look at the big picture, and how that one disadvantage is being outweighed by other advantages." But SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "It's a bad move if the Lakers don't put at least some of their games on free TV. Basketball games on free TV can be looked at as a free three-hour commercial. To ignore that opportunity is to make a big mistake" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).

CHANGING THE GAME: In L.A., Pugmire & Flint note the fallout from the Lakers-TWC deal to "create two regional sports networks -- one in English and one in Spanish -- will not only dramatically restrict the team from free over-the-air television but place them on satellite, cable and telephone carriers, asking fans to pay more to watch the NBA's most successful franchise." The new partnership "not only gives Time Warner Cable a grip on the most popular franchise in the region, but new clout to try to either lure subscribers away from competitors ... or get those competitors to pay big bucks to carry the still unnamed channels." The 20-year deal takes Lakers games off FS West, but Fox Sports VP/PR Chris Bellitti in an e-mail said, "The impact of the Lakers' departure is overstated. Fox Sports West is a strong business today and will continue to be a strong business without the Lakers." Pugmire & Flint note for Fox Sports, the "challenge will be maintaining its subscriber fees despite losing the Lakers, and ensuring there is no exodus." The Dodgers' contract with Fox expires in '13, and team Owner Frank McCourt yesterday said that he "did not believe the Lakers' network would preclude him from starting his own." Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott called the Lakers deal "an encouraging sign." The conference's deals with ESPN and Fox end after next season, and Scott said, "We need competition." The Angels-FS West agreement runs through the '15 MLB season. (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).

AHEAD ON A FASTBREAK: In L.A., Kevin Baxter notes the Lakers "scored a slam dunk in the Latino market" with the TWC partnership, which calls for the creation of the "nation's first Spanish-language regional sports network." The deal is "just the latest in a series of efforts by the Lakers and the NBA as they reach out to the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population." The league said that "about one out of six NBA fans is Latino and this season the NBA's Latino TV audience has grown nearly 20%, drawing more than 9.7 million unique viewers on the six national networks that carry NBA games." Viewership is "particularly strong when the Lakers play, a fact that was instrumental in bringing the Time Warner deal together." An ESPN survey in '09 found the Lakers to be the "most popular sports team among U.S. Latinos." Even before this deal, they were "one of 12 NBA teams whose games were heard on Spanish-language radio" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
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