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Volume 21 No. 31
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Ratings for Dodgers, Astros show the challenges of starting RSN

The two MLB teams that most recently launched their own regional sports networks suffered through historically low local ratings this season.

With a little more than a week left in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 0.80 rating on SportsNet LA and the Houston Astros’ 0.35 rating on CSN Houston were on pace to be not only the lowest local TV ratings in the league this season, but also the lowest local numbers in the history of the two franchises.

The main reason the teams’ ratings are so low comes down to distribution. Only a fraction of the pay TV subscribers in Houston and Los Angeles have access to CSN Houston and SportsNet LA. Neither RSN has a deal with satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network, or with telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon.

Astros games on CSN Houston were averaging 8,000 homes in the Houston market, baseball’s lowest average local audience since the 2008 Washington Nationals averaged 8,000 homes.

Dodgers games on SportsNet LA were averaging 42,000 homes, paltry numbers for a division-winning team playing in the country’s second-biggest market. By comparison, the crosstown rival Los Angeles Angels’ audience was more than twice as large, averaging 95,000 homes. Perhaps helped by SportsNet LA’s troubles, ratings for Angels games on FS West jumped 49 percent this season, the biggest increase in baseball.

Despite all the problems CSN Houston and SportsNet LA have had, industry consultants said teams’ enthusiasm for controlling their own local media rights hasn’t waned, but how they might go about doing it is changing.

“Any team that is looking at its media rights in the next two to five years can look to L.A. and Houston to see all the risks they’ll have to take,” said media consultant Chris Bevilacqua, who has represented several baseball teams.

For Bevilacqua and for Lee Berke, president of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, teams have started to shy away from launching an RSN on their own in favor of partnering with a distributor or programmer.

“I’m not seeing interest in the market from teams going out there on their own,” said Berke, who has consulted with dozens of teams on how to handle their media rights, including the Angels and the San Francisco Giants. “We’re not going to see too many YES Networks or NESNs in the future.”