Trapped into paying extra for cable TV sports

The Dodgers charged $8 billion for broadcast rights to their games, knowing full well that pay-TV companies would have to pass along this sky-high cost to all customers. Above, John Hartung, the studio anchor for SportsNet L.A. (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times / February 14, 2014)

A company rep answered that I couldn't find them because they're included in subscribers' digital packages. In other words, they're hidden.

I told the rep that I didn't want the two sports channels. Could she please delete them from my account?

The rep hung up. That's absolutely true. Ask my Times colleagues who were sitting nearby, snickering, as I sat there going, "Hello? Hello?"

I called Time Warner back and reached a different rep. I asked once again how much the Lakers and Dodgers channels cost me.

The rep said I'm not being charged for them at the moment because I'm still enjoying a special promotional rate. But when that promo rate ends next month, she said, my monthly bill will go up 23%.

Twenty-three percent. And much of that will be to cover the cost of two sports channels that I don't want and never watch.

Such runaway costs are a key factor in prompting a growing number of people to "cut the cord" and seek programming through online resources such as Netflix and Amazon.com.

A recent report from Experian Marketing Services found that about 7.6 million homes have abandoned pay-TV service while keeping high-speed Internet access. Other reports show that the younger and more wired a consumer is, the more likely it is that he or she will say adios to pay TV.

This is why DirecTV, Dish, Verizon and AT&T have balked at adding $4 to $5 to people's bills for a Dodgers channel.

"L.A. is already one of the world's most expensive places to watch sports, and networks like these encourage an even worse sense of entitlement by guaranteeing billions to teams without ever considering the financial burden to the pay-TV customer," said Robert Mercer, a DirecTV spokesman.

"Time Warner Cable's take-it-or-leave-it position is that everyone, including millions of non-Dodger fans, has to either bankroll their unprecedented Dodger deal or get shut out," he said.

I've long advocated for a la carte pricing — paying only for the channels you want. And I still believe that's the only equitable way to offer a service. Why should consumers be forced to pay for products they don't want?

Until we get there, though, it seems obvious that sports programming needs to be broken out into its own premium tier. Those who want sports can pay for it. Those who don't, won't.

This would have the added benefit of forcing team owners to stop being so money-grubbing. As long as they continue looking at fans — and non-fans — as their personal ATM, they'll continue feeling free to drive ticket and licensing costs into the stratosphere.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling is paying the price for being a narrow-minded jerk.

Why should the Dodgers' owners get a pass?

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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