Mark Walter and Todd Boehly made a deal destined to be remembered as the last great big deal in the local cable sports wars. In 2013, those two members of the Dodgers ownership group persuaded Time Warner Cable to launch a new cable channel for the Dodgers, grant the team ownership of the channel, and pay the team $8.35 billion for rights to broadcast the games.
Since then, tens of millions of viewers across America have canceled subscriptions to cable and satellite providers. Some of those providers have gone out of business, or have been consumed in mergers. As Dodgers fans without Time Warner Cable found out the hard way, other providers have cut back or eliminated sports offerings to avoid paying pricey fees.
New streaming services seem to pop up every day. You have more freedom to pay for what you want to watch, rather than to pay for dozens of channels that corporations tossed into the package you had to buy to get the three or four channels you really wanted. Amazon can make a movie and stream it to you, all without a Hollywood production company or a cable partner.
A decade from now, we might watch the Dodgers or Lakers with any of those technologies, and perhaps with some that do not exist today. With so many video programs in so many different forms competing for your time and money, the Dodgers and Lakers have a huge step up on the competition: They are the two teams Los Angeles most wants to watch, and it’s not particularly close.
As of Saturday, Walter and Boehly have a say in how you will watch the Dodgers and Lakers for decades to come. With Walter and Boehly buying a minority share of the Lakers, the two teams would have the option to sell themselves together, in what would be the only must-watch sports package in the second-largest media market in North America.
“Those two teams would, collectively, put you in a position of dominating the market,” said Ed Desser, the founding president of NBA TV and currently Santa Monica-based sports media consultant.
The Dodgers and Lakers have broad appeal beyond the Los Angeles market. The Lakers have won 17 NBA titles, the Dodgers seven World Series championships.
Forbes last month ranked the two among the 10 most valuable North American sports franchises, with the Dodgers worth an estimated $3.6 billion. In the deal in which Walter and Boehly purchased a minority share, according to Sportico, the Lakers were valued at about $5 billion.
“The ability to bundle two global assets from a major entertainment market should have tremendous demand,” said David Carter, who teaches sports business at USC.
“The global reach of both brands, the winning traditions, and the overall brand heritage is just off the charts.”
Nothing would appear to be imminent on that front: Jeanie Buss still makes the decisions for the Lakers, and Spectrum retains the Lakers’ local television rights through the 2031-32 season.
But, with the proliferation of streaming services making subscriptions an increasingly competitive business, the Dodgers and Lakers could be poised to offer the undisputed killer app for local sports, with interactivity and community surrounding the games of the most popular teams in town.
“The only way to be relevant in this world, in my opinion, is to own live content that brings people together — not physically, but through networks,” Boehly told The Times in a 2012 interview.
“That type of interactivity is programming that is extremely valuable. It’s not like it’s the box talking to you. And it’s only going to get more interesting as the interactivity develops.”
Amazon, for instance, is streaming 21 New York Yankees games this season on its Prime Video service, with what was called its “exclusive X-Ray technology, which allows fans streaming … to access live in-game stats, team and player details and real-time play-by-play information as they watch.”
Big tech companies have waded cautiously into sports — Facebook carried a weekly Major League Baseball game last season, and YouTube is doing the same this season — but Amazon this year committed $11 billion for exclusive rights to Thursday night NFL games through 2033.
“I don’t think you’d call $11 billion for Thursday night NFL rights dipping your toe in the water,” Desser said.
As the old saying goes, content is king.
“The value flows from the content,” Desser said. “The value is a function of interest in the respective teams.”
And, in Los Angeles sports, the Dodgers and Lakers are kings.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.