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In this file photo taken April 13, 2010, an empty Dodger Stadium before a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. On Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, the Dodgers announced their single-ticket pricing plan for 2013 including a four-star scale.

Continuing a theme of boldly going where no previous ownership has gone before, the Dodgers are close to a deal where they would launch their own channel in a partnership with Time Warner Cable starting in 2014.

Neither the Dodgers nor Time Warner Cable confirmed several stories that insisted a deal has finally been agreed upon Tuesday and could be announced Thursday.

Bloomberg News was the first to announce the projected arrangement between the Guggenheim Baseball Management and the cable giant.

If rumors hold that the deal in the $8 billion range covering 25 years is accurate, it would make it the most expensive local TV deal in history.

It would also give Southern California viewers six sports regional networks and likely forcing them to pay three times as much as they had before for the same content.

One element in delaying this announcement officially might be that current rights holders, Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket, have a chance to match the offer, depending on how it is structured.

Fox Sports West, which created its second FSW channel in 1997 to accommodate an extended Dodgers schedule of games, had a reported $6 billion, 25-year deal on the table in late November, which, in addition to the straight TV rights, included giving the Dodgers partial ownership of the channel.


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After those talks extended past Fox's exclusive window, it allowed Time Warner Cable to jump in and begin negotiations on several different business models.

According to the Sports Business Daily, Fox/Prime Ticket has certain "back-end rights" that might allow it to match any Time Warner offer "depending on the specifics of the (new) contract."

A source told SBD that one of the holdups in the Dodgers and TWC finalizing any arrangement last week was "trying to craft a deal that would get around Fox's right to match." The SBD report said Fox could match "a straight rights deal, or any deal that gives TWC an equity interest in a new channel. Matching rights would not kick in if the Dodgers launch a channel on their own and get TWC to agree to carry it with no equity stake."

The Guggenheim Partners' decision to go ahead and launch their own channel, with the assistance of Dick Clark Productions providing content to surround the channel with programming, would be one way to circumvent that kind of provision.

Fox spokespeople had no comment to offer as well on how they stand in the negotiations.

This arrangement would give the Dodgers a long-term business model that is along the lines of what the New York Yankees did with the launch of their own YES network some 10 years ago. Rather than take any short-term cash benefits from signing a deal with a local cable operator, the Yankees went on their own and started their own channel, absorbed a couple years of losses at the start, but have built the brand to where Fox's parent company, News Corp., spent $500 million on a 49 percent share of YES, which will eventually boost the channel's value to nearly $4 billion.

In the end, Fox's aggressiveness in buying the shares of YES was in case the Dodgers' extension with FSW/Prime didn't happen.

Before any kind of TV deal is approved, the Dodgers have known there could be layers of red tape to delay the proceedings, even though it will take effect this upcoming season, the last of Prime Ticket's current 12-year contract.

This file photo taken July 26, 2011, shows Dodger Stadium before a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies. On Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, the
This file photo taken July 26, 2011, shows Dodger Stadium before a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies. On Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, the Dodgers announced their single-ticket pricing plan for 2013 including a four-star scale. (Keith Birmingham/Staff Photographer)

For one, Major League Baseball might have issues with how much of the new contract can be applied to payroll and how much would have to be shared. The Dodgers have been led to believe they will get a greater share based on parameters set in the recent bankruptcy sale. A bankruptcy judge might have to examine any new TV deal as well before it is approved.

From a distribution standpoint, the Dodgers would be taking on a far greater risk in starting and running their own channel beyond TWC's help and its more than 2 million Southern California customers.

Competing cable and dish systems are already feeling pinched by rising sports-rights fees and trying to create more channel space on sports tiers. 

TWC would be the anchor of this new Dodger channel and provide plenty of cross promotion with its own TWC SportsNet and Deportes channels created specifically for the Lakers. But as TWC found out, there was plenty of pushback from distributors when it launched its two-channel package in October leading up to the start of the Lakers season - mostly because of the high-end $3.95 price tag per subscriber per month.

DirecTV, for example, didn't get on board with it until the middle of November. Dish Network has yet to sign on.

Also competing for customer dollars are the new Pac-12 Networks (still not on DirecTV) and what's left of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket.

The Dodgers' defection would also be another huge blow to Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket, having lost both its anchor tenants and key programming providers in the matter of two seasons. There is no indication that Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket would merge back into one channel as it carries the NHL's Kings and Ducks in addition to the NBA's Clippers in the winter months, but has only the Angels as its primary focus in the spring and summer.

thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com

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