One in a series of Deadline stories that look back on 2013 and ahead to 2014.
Some of 2014’s most important sporting events won’t take place on a grassy field or an indoor court. They’ll play out in board rooms as TV execs continue their struggle to balance the diverging interests of those who love sports, and others who don’t — but still have to subsidize the programming as part of the pay TV bundle. Sports accounts for about 33% of cable and satellite company programming costs, Barclays Equity Research’s Kannan Venkat estimates. That percentage will grow: Sports prices are rising about 10% a year while other channels rise about 7%. DirecTV CEO Mike White says consumer frustration could soon begin to boil. “There’s a point where you have to stand up for the 99% who are angry about their bills.”
Will 2014 be the year when distributors make a serious effort to slow their rising sports costs? It’s possible, especially in dealings with regional sports channels — particularly in Los Angeles. Time Warner Cable is about to introduce a service for Dodgers games, SportsNetLA, following its launch last year of SportsNet and Deportes which show Lakers games. The cable company is said to want other distributors to pay $5 per subscriber per month for the Dodgers, roughly the same price MSG charges for its regional service that offers the New York Knicks and Rangers. But so far other distributors have not stepped up to the plate. DirecTV could help everyone hold out; the No. 1 satellite company has led the charge against high-priced regional sports networks. It declined to carry the Pac-12 Network which is home to two schools (UCLA and USC) in the key LA market, the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network, and Comcast-owned sports services in Portland, Philadelphia and Houston. (The Houston network filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.)