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Why is the San Diego city council weighing in on Padres’ broadcast rights?

Mar 14, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

padres logo friar

The Padres have a thing like a lot of teams have had in recent years: a large portion of its fan base can’t see Padres games because one of the cable providers in the area isn’t carrying the channel which has the broadcast rights. In this cast it’s Time Warner — who covers northern San Diego County — not carrying Fox Sports San Diego, which runs the Padres games.

Whatever. Business is business. If Fox is asking for too much of a cut from Time Warner or if Time Warner is trying to squeeze out a competitor’s programming that’s something for the market to figure out. Customers who want to see Padres games will switch to satellite if they can. Or they’ll send a barrage of mail to Time Warner or something. I know people love their TV and their sports, but cable is a business and these things ultimately shake themselves out.

So why, then, is the San Diego City Council getting involved?

A San Diego City Council committee hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning on the impasse between Time Warner Cable and Fox Sports San Diego over carrying Padres baseball games.

The special meeting of the Rules and Economic Development Committee is set for 9 a.m. at the City Administration Building. Committee Chair Sherri Lightner said she arranged the hearing because of an outcry from fans who want to watch the hometown team’s games.

Grandstanding? Or is is just another instance of government officials mistaking sports teams as some sort of public trust and cable television carriage as an inalienable right?


  1. mybrunoblog - Mar 14, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Clearly politicians sticking their noses into private business to show their constituents “Hey, we’re here for you. We care”
    Now in reality it’s bullshit. This happened in NY 11 years ago with cablevision and the Yes network. Calcaterrra is absolutely right. The market will work this out not some politician trying to score points.
    In related news I love the Padres Swinging Friar logo.

    • anxovies - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      Sports teams routinely receive financial and infrastructure support from the local community to build stadiums and improve parking and access. Cable companies get exclusive contracts and right-of-way access for transmission lines through a municipality’s power of eminent domain. I am sure that one or more of these situations is true in San Diego. If private business wants the public’s nose out of its business it should keep its hands out of the public till.

  2. icanspeel - Mar 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    This is why..

    Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s Office confirmed Wednesday that people from both companies will speak at Thursday’s special meeting of the council’s Rules and Economic Development Committee. In a statement, Lightner’s Office said: “The City of San Diego has a stake in the success of its local Major League Baseball Team as it generates economic activity, promotes San Diego to a national audience, and boosts civic pride. Because of that fact, the city must do all it can to encourage the two sides to reach a deal to broadcast the Padres.”

    • icanspeel - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      I will add I don’t exactly agree with it.. just passing along what was said from the Councilwoman’s office.

  3. mattjg - Mar 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    To play devil’s advocate, it’s the government that has given cable companies monopolies in certain areas meaning that consumers have to either take what their local cable company offers or get satellite, which isn’t an option for a lot of people.

    I’m not sure what the appropriate response is, whether it’s rolling back the monopolies given to cable providers or encouraging cable companies to provide certain channels, but I don’t necessarily see this as city government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.

  4. manchestermiracle - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Let’s not forget that politics often plays a huge part in certain industries being allowed to become monopolies. San Diego Gas & Electric is a good example of a utility given free rein to gouge customers while providing a virtually non-existent level of “service.” Time Warner is a service-poor cable company, following in the footsteps of Cox.

    Lots of folks don’t have any alternative to the local cable company. Yes, satellite TV is out there (yet another monopoly) but if you live in an apartment, condominium, or HOA-controlled house you might not be permitted to put up a dish. And streaming content over an internet provider is not a viable alternative if that content is “bundled” by the company providing the cable service.

    When a monopoly chooses to strong-arm its customers by deciding which outlets are broadcast and which are not, I do not find it intrusive when local government gets involved in order to maintain a fair and equitable marketplace. This very reason is why electric monopolies have their rates set by government. Issues like this one would fade away if government simply mandated that content providers could no longer bundle channels and had to offer a-la-carte programming.

    Monopolies cry out for regulation by government and this is a prime example of why government gets involved, as it should. A monopoly by definition has no competition. A corporation exists for one reason and one reason only: To make money. There is no inherent desire to be fair. The free market principle doesn’t apply here because there is no true free market at work in the broadcast industry. The infrastructure, much like the electric power industry, is much too expensive to think some rogue start-up could hope to make a dent in the major players’ market share before going bankrupt.

  5. shawndc04 - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    >Grandstanding? Or is is just another instance of government officials mistaking sports teams as some sort of public trust and cable television carriage as an inalienable right?,

    Or perhaps the officials are responding to complaints from their constituents about the impasse.

    • sportsdrenched - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      That’s the perception I got from reading the article. I fall slightly to the right on the politcal spectrum, and I’m Ok with a government dragging two business into a room and saying: “Figure it out” especially when they affect a large portion of the population.

      Now, which one of you is going to drag O and Congress into a room and lock them in there till THEY figure it out?

      • hep3 - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

        “Now, which one of you is going to drag O and Congress into a room and lock them in there till THEY figure it out?”

        Never happen. They are out to lunch; Congress and the White House.

    • jm91rs - Mar 14, 2013 at 8:47 PM

      I’d say this is probably what’s driving this. If enough constituents tell you to do something you better act like you tried if you want to get votes next election.

      I know personally here in Cincinnati we paid a lot of public money for the stadiums, if there was some squabble between tv carriers and I couldn’t watch the team I paid money to support, I might get all irrational and demand some law maker do something as well. Not sure about the stadium situation in San Diego so I can’t say that’s the motivation. I think anytime you take sports away from a fan you’re likely to get some irate people demanding everyone step in and fix the problem.

  6. mirmz - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Duh Craig: the rights to free speech, freedom of religion, due process and cable television. It’s only in the Bill of Constitutions.

    • anxovies - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      Bill of Constitutions? Duh.

  7. senioreditor2 - Mar 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    I’ve lived in San Diego for the past 40 years. I love the city. It’s a wonderful place to live. Our city counsel has ALWAYS been awful, shortsighted and ineffective. It’s easier to tackle a problem that they know they can’t fix then one they can but are too incompetent to. Mayor Filner (yes the same Bob Filner) presently has no communication with his “own” City Attorney, so tackling the serious problem of not being able to view the AAA Padres is understandably high on the cities priority. Only because it’s a delightful place to live is the ONLY reason San Diego is not in Detroit’s situation.

    • 18thstreet - Mar 15, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      If you don’t like your city counsel, elect a different one.

  8. historiophiliac - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Ugh, Craig put on his capitalist hat today.

  9. schlom - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    Better they spend their time on this rather on other things where they can do real damage.

  10. xpensivewinos - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    The folks in North County should consider themselves lucky that they’re not subjected to watching the absolute garbage the Padres call a team. Time Warner is doing them a favor. If the Padres were worth watching, Time Warner and Fox Sports would have come to an agreement or enough people would have dropped Time Warner and switched to satellite if they really cared. Much ado about nothing with a bit of annoying grandstanding being done by local politicians.

    Well, at least Carlos Quentin isn’t hurt again/still/predictably. Oh wait……..

    • manchestermiracle - Mar 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      Maybe those poor folks just want to see the teams the Padres play.

  11. Marty - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I have to give Craig props for framing a free market argument, which I am in support of, in a way I totally disagree with.

    Sports and telecom industries rely so heavily on public infrastructure and support that frankly I can’t think if another industry that should be scrutinized more in front of a city council.

    Good for SD city gov, they are responding to their constituents and may just facilitate an agreement.

    Why a baseball guy who is in favor of governments iron grip on other sectors would not be in favor of this is perplexing.

  12. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Mar 14, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Does baseball want to enter the free market? That anti-trust exemption would be a tough thing to lose. Or all of those stadium dollars. Similar arguments could be made for cable providers. I think both sides will do well to play nice with the city council

  13. andreweac - Mar 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    Looks like the council wants to change the topic from their pension and fiscal woes…

  14. alwayssfgiantsinphilly - Mar 14, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    You have to be joking right? Name me a sports team that doesn’t have its hand out for some subsidy or other public benefit. If some billionaire wanted to own a team and do whatever fine, but even these owners want, new stadiums, extra taxes, etc, etc.

  15. gloccamorra - Mar 15, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    The thing you have to realize is that in the early days of cable, cities treated cable companies like utilities and GRANTED monopolies. The city was split between Cox Cable in the south and Time Warner in the north, with both agreeing to the split. The city granted franchises to those companies to provide TV service to communities that couldn’t get broadcast due to topography.

    That was the original intent, but though the cable TV landscape has changed, the licensed monopoly franchise hasn’t. It’s not a free market by any means, or Cox cable would offer service in Time Warner’s area, or Charter could move in, without needing a franchise agreement. The fact that Time Warner is a franchisee of the City of San Diego means the city does in fact have some oversight responsibility.

    It’s not the same as a McDonald’s franchisee refusing to offer Big Macs, but the intent of granting a cable franchise was to provide local TV service to areas that couldn’t get broadcast. There is an argument for the City to get involved, though the issue is money.

    Cox provides the same basket of channels plus Padres games for the same price Time Warner charges without Padres games; Dish and DirectTV offer the same Time Warner package plus Padres for less, as does new player AT&T U-verse, which isn’t bound by the cable TV franchise agreement. Time Warner is simply maximizing its profits at the expense of its captive customer base.

    The City will use its public meetings to put pressure on Time Warner, but the Council won’t do anything, since the City gets a couple million dollars a year in franchise fees no matter what. The problem will be resolved when Time Warner loses a significant number of subscribers, and the entry of AT&T virtually guarantees that, if AT&T’s U-verse undersells Time Warner, as it’s doing now. Time Warner is making a free-market business decision now, but it’s penny wise and dollar foolish. By the time they realize the mistake, they may well be a niche level cable provider in the region, with far less than the 180,000 households they now service.

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