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San Diego Tries To Umpire Dispute Over Padres TV Broadcasts

Evening Edition

Above: New ownership has San Diego fans excited for the upcoming Padres baseball season. But some fans are worked up for another reason: not being able to watch the Padres on TV. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr says the San Diego City Council is getting involved in an attempt to resolve a programming dispute that’s going on its second season.

Aired 3/14/13 on KPBS News.

New ownership has San Diego fans excited for the upcoming Padres baseball season. But some fans are worked up for another reason, not being able to watch the Pads on TV.

— Ed Mracek is a diehard Padres fan, he has been since the 1970s while growing up in the College Area. He has the old team hats to prove it.

“This is early '70s, probably like circa ’73, the Padre brown,” he said, holding up a soft, chocolate brown hat with gold lettering. “My dad ended up painting our house Padre brown.”

Mracek has been through it all as a fan, watching great players, suffering through losing seasons, reveling in the team’s World Series appearances. And sometimes he wants to keep track of his team while he’s at his home in La Jolla. But he can’t, because Mracek is a Time Warner Cable customer.

“I think it’s corporate politics at its best,” he said. “I mean, I’ve had Time Warner for over 20 years in La Jolla and it’s been really frustrating not having the Padres on the air.”

The Padre games aren’t available to Time Warner Cable viewers, who concentrate toward North County. The company hasn’t been able to come to an agreement with Fox Sports San Diego, the network contracted to air the games. Time Warner Cable maintains Fox wants too much money for the sports network. Fox points out it’s reached broadcast agreements with every other major provider in the area and that Time Warner Cable is spending $8 billion to broadcast sports in Los Angeles.

That has Sherri Lightner concerned too. The San Diego city councilwoman is holding a public hearing to try to work through the dispute, though she has no real power to resolve it. If nothing else, she said her hearing could put a little pressure on the companies.

“The city can certainly make folks aware of what some of their options are,” she said, “and actually ask Fox and Time Warner to get together for the benefit of the constituents in the city.”

Constituents like U-T San Diego columnist and Time Warner Cable subscriber Matt Hall. Hall started writing about the dispute last season when he couldn’t watch the Padres on TV. He points out a lot of the affected fans are older or disabled and can’t make it downtown to PETCO Park for a game. He says there’s no good reason for it.

“This is greed. Plain and simple, this is greed,” he said. “People are arguing over sums of money that you and I are never going to see in our lifetime. And I think people are disgusted by that.”

But while the public may be disgusted, professor George Belch said we should expect more of these situations. He’s the chair of the Marketing Department at San Diego State and co-founder of the university’s Sports MBA Program. He says these kinds of disputes are becoming more common as the amount of money involved increases. But he said the city’s role is unclear because this is ultimately a conflict between two private companies.

“For me at least, it’s hard to see where the city would come in,” he said. “I mean, the city would like to say this is an important issue to the population. But I guess that’s for the city attorneys to figure out what legal rights they really have to get involved in this.”

The San Diego City Attorney has issued a memo saying it’s reasonable for San Diego to look into the issue, though it’s ultimately up to the companies to settle it. But Belch said the players may have a role as well. If they have a strong start to the season, it may spur more fans to demand the companies reach an agreement so they can watch their beloved Padres from wherever they choose.

The public hearing on the Padres TV dispute will be held Thursday at 9 a.m. at the City Administration Building in downtown.

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