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In the Midst of Rebuilding, Astros Lose Leverage in CSN Houston Negotiations PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 14:13

Astros

In advance of the overall strategy for the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane, former President and CEO George Postolos, and the Houston Rockets approached NBC Sports Group about the creation of a new regional sports network that would become Comcast SportsNet Houston. The deal which sees the Astros own 46.384 percent, the Rockets owning 30.923 percent, and NBC Sports Group owning the balance at 22.693 percent was smart given the rapidly changing landscape of media deals. With the move to the American League West, the Astros would be competing with the Rangers and Angels, both of whom had landed media rights deals at a reported total of $3 billion. While the Astros wouldn’t be garnering that much, they at least would be able to potentially top out in excess of $1.5 billion over the life of the agreement.

But, a couple of things happened along the way that has CSN Houston not reaching the revenues anticipated. In fact, the Astros and Rockets could potentially have the new RSN a loss leader, as opposed to a key revenue stream.

While the Houston Rockets made the playoffs this season, the Astros are years from the postseason. As part of the sale to Crane, then owner Drayton McLane began unloading player payroll. By the time the sale was approved in November of 2011, the team had finished the season with 106 losses and attendance ranked 19th at 2,067,016. In 2012, the Astros again finished with over 100 losses (107, to be exact), and attendance had dropped to 28th with a total of 1,607,733, a whopping decline of 459,283 in paid attendance or -22% from 2011. And, it appears that the team will surpass the 100 loss season mark this year.

All of this has played into the hands of carriage negotiations for CSN Houston. According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the “Astros/Rockets/NBC Sports Group partnership is low on funds and faces ‘tough decisions’ about its future,” according to Astros owner, Jim Crane. Currently CSN Houston is not being carried by DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse or regional carriers such as Suddenlink and Time Warner Cable. Currently, the new RSN is only being carried on approx. 40 percent of available 2.2 million televisions in the Houston area due to the impasse. Due to limited carriage, Houston Rockets ratings were down one-third for the season that recently ended.

Imagine that.

The issue is one of conflicting interests. The owners of CSN Houston, knowing that carriage deals of up to 20 years carries with it the need to get the most while they can, are sticking to their guns on getting the best rate possible. According to reports, that could be as high as $3.40 per subscriber—a lofty sum, especially in light of the dismal performance by the Astros, and the possibility that it could be several years before the rebuilding gets the club into competitiveness. The owners of CSN Houston are looking at the market that has not only provided those $3 billion deals for the Rangers and Astros, but $2 billion for the Mariners as part of the majority purchase of ROOTS Sports NW, the Dodgers waiting for approval on a $6-$8 billion media rights deal with TWC, and the outcome of a potential bidding war between FOX Sports and Comcast for a new Phillies deal. It is actually the cumulative weight of all these media rights deals, coupled with the self-inflicted wounds that the Astros have taken on with the fan base as part of the rebuilding that place the Astros/Rockets and NBC Sports Group at a considerable disadvantage.

And, it’s not like having Jim Crane say that CSN Houston is going to have to make “tough decisions” doesn’t add more leverage to those carriers that the RSN is trying to get top-dollar for. Ask yourself: if you know that an RSN is wounded, that ratings are down, and public perception of the club is low, why would you give in and offer a high rate that you are stuck with for 20 years?

And then there’s the “perception” matter. The carriers on the sideline see the Astros, Rockets, and MLS Dynamo that are carried on CSN Houston as “a small market” and therefore, not worth the amount being sought as a regional channel offering. New Astros president Reid Ryan said of the negotiations, There’s a real desire from Jim to get it right because (Crane) knows if he doesn’t get it right, it could affect this club for a very, very long time,” Ryan said. “There’s a perception out there nationally that Houston is a small market, and what we’re hearing is that people want to treat us as a small market. This is the fourth-largest city in America. It’s kind of a slap in the face to call Houston a small market.”

There is possible movement on the matter, but it’s hard saying when that movement may come, if at all. On Monday, representatives from the Astros, Rockets, NBC Sports Group and Suddenlink Communications met with Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The meetings were described as “positive” but that no resolution was reached, and none were expected soon.

The Astros may be part of bad timing as well as negotiating from a position of weakness. As we’ve been saying, it’s possible that the media rights bubble may be close to bursting. When you couple that with the Astros poor showing in the standings and other matters such as bad PR with the sudden, unexpected resignation of George Postolos, the Astros may get broader carriage, but not at the rate they feel they deserve, or want. It's just one more thing on top of many others that have the Astros needing to slow down with all the change.


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted here.

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USA vs. Canada World Baseball Classic Game Most-Watched Non-Postseason Game in MLB Network History PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 12 March 2013 11:20

World Baseball Classic

Every few years, the debate arises over the popularity of the World Baseball Classic. “It’s a marketing tool to grow the game globally”… “Fans outside of the U.S.A. are more passionate and that’s because in the U.S., we simply want Major League Baseball’s regular season to start so we can catch all the stars of the game”…

And while MLB Network has a large subscriber base, a large swatch of the US still doesn’t have access to it to watch. So it’s somewhat surprising that the league-owned network got a decent ratings win this past weekend.

Team USA’s win over Canada on Sunday in the Pool D elimination game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic was the most-watched non-Postseason game ever on MLB Network, averaging 760,000 viewers, up 26% from the previous high, a New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox game on October 2, 2012. The USA vs. Canada game peaked with 1.25 million viewers during the final innings, from 7:00 – 7:30 p.m. ET, which included the USA’s four-run rally in the ninth inning.

The strength of 15 World Baseball Classic game telecasts helped MLB Network to its most-watched weekend ever, drawing an average of 252,000 viewers* from Friday, March 8 through Sunday, March 10.

MLB Network’s two other 2013 World Baseball Classic game telecasts featuring Team USA are among the top five most-watched non-Postseason game telecasts in the network’s history. Friday’s Mexico vs. USA matchup averaged 673,000 viewers, the network’s second-most viewed non-Postseason game telecast, while Saturday’s USA vs. Italy game drew an average of 576,000 viewers. The Dominican Republic’s defeat of Puerto Rico on Sunday averaged 513,000 viewers, the most-viewed non-USA game telecast of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

So, it will be interesting to see what the ratings do if Team USA makes it to the finals. After all, they’ve done no better than fourth (that was 2006). America loves a winner. If they do pull it off, it could be a game changer for not only the WBC, but MLB Network.

All figures per Nielsen; weekend viewership includes Friday-Saturday from 6a-6a and Sunday from 6a-3a


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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MLB.com Releases 2013 World Baseball Classic App for iPhone, iPad PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 13:14

WBCYou had to wonder if it was coming. With the popularity of MLB.com’s At Bat application for mobile and the World Baseball Classic returning, the logic of creating a branded mobile app for the WBC made sense.

Today, that came to fruition as MLB Advanced Media, the digital rights arm of Major League Baseball released 2013 World Baseball Classic was released. There’s good news and bad news about the release. The bad news, sorry Android, Kindle, and Blackberry users, the app is only available Apple iPhone and iPad. You’ll also have to be someone that gets MLB Network already. More on that in a second. The good news is, it’s free. It will deliver live coverage of every game in the tournament with Gameday pitch-by-pitch tracking as well as mobile access to scores, schedules, statistics, video highlights, news and analysis from MLB.com reporters.

The 2013 World Baseball Classic app will also make live and on-demand telecasts of all 39 games available on an authenticated basis to Bright House Networks, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable subscribers who receive MLB Network as part of their TV subscription.

Here’s images of the app, courtesy of MLB.com

World Baseball Classic 2013 for iPhone World Baseball Classic 2013 for iPhone
World Baseball Classic 2013 for iPhone World Baseball Classic 2013 for iPhone

World Baseball Classic 2013 for iPhone

Download 2013 World Baseball Classic on iTunes


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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Baseball Fans Rejoice as MLB.com's At Bat 13 Is Released PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Friday, 22 February 2013 00:20

At Bat iconThe NFL may rule television ratings, but when it comes to digital media and sports, Major League Baseball is king. MLB Advanced Media has become a gold-standard that other leagues try and emulate, and the digital-rights arm of baseball has ruled the mobile app world.

So, when the latest version of Apple’s highest-grossing app, MLB.com’s At Bat 13 is released, fans take notice. It’s out, and with it, Spring Training is not far behind.

The latest offering released on Thursday sports new functionality, is cross-platform, and hosts a new mobile platform.

As was the case last year, you can download it for free if you are a MLB.TV Premium subscriber. Unlocking all the features requires an MLB.TV Premium subscription which runs $129.99 for the season, or you can get it for $24.99 a month. Fans also may subscribe to MLB.com At Bat 13 for the one-time annual fee of $19.99, covering the entire season through the World Series. iOS users may pay $2.99/month with the recurring billing offer. A nice touch this year is that those that had At Bat last season will not need to download a whole new version if on Apple platforms, as in years past. A push update was released, and users that upgrade simply need to provide MLB.TV Premium subscription details or opt for the “Lite” version.

As mentioned, it’s an MLB.TV sub, so you’ll be able to watch on your computer, or other supported devices such as Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 system, Apple TV, WD TV, Roku, internet connected Panasonic, Samsung and LG TVs and Blue-Ray players, as well as Boxee (see the full list of MLB.TV Premium supported devices).

New for this year is a new platform that will be available and was announced in January in the form of BlackBerry Z10. Those users will have to wait until Opening Day, rather than iOS mobile platforms such as iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phones and tablets, and Kindle Fire getting updates for Spring Training.

It took some time, but live streaming video is across all the supported platforms, although MLB.com states that details on the BlackBerry Z10 will be forthcoming by the start of the regular season.

NEW FOR 2013 (Spring Training update only; Opening Day update coming soon)

  • Multi-platform live audio access for At Bat 13 subscribers, offering account portability to listen to live games on Mac/PC desktops and laptops
  • Universal iOS and Android support for At Bat 13 subscribers, full feature accessibility across all supported smartphones and tablets
  • Sortable batting, pitching and fielding statistics (iPad and Android tablets)
  • Re-designed individual team pages (iPhone and Android phones)
  • Updated news section interface (iPhone and Android phones)
  • Expanded video highlight integration (iPhone and Android phones)
  • Classic games video library archive (all devices)
  • Re-architected app navigation (all devices)
  • Additional push notification options (iPhone)
  • Favorite team enhancements (iPad and Android tablets)
  • Searchable video highlight library expansion to include access to complete video archives (all devices)
  • In-app annual subscription purchase (Google Play)

SPRING TRAINING FEATURES

  • Watch live streaming of more than 200 available Spring Training games with a subscription to MLB.TV Premium (iPhone, iPad, select Android phones & tablets)
  • Listen live to available Spring Training radio broadcasts (all)
  • Track league-wide scoreboards and batter-by-batter action for every game (all)
  • Breaking news, schedules and interactive rosters and players stats for every team (all)
  • Full-season schedule calendars (all)

iPad Images

At Bat 13
At Bat 13


iPhone/iPod Touch images

At Bat 13
At Bat 13 At Bat 13
At Bat 13 At Bat 13

 

Android Tablet

At Bat 13

 

Android Phone

At Bat 13 At Bat 13


Download At Bat 13 for Apple devices on iTunes

Download At Bat 13 for Android phones on Google Play

Download for Android tablets on Google Play

Download At Bat 13 for Kindle Fire on Amazon

Source: MLB.com


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

Follow Maury Brown on Twitter Twitter

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Explosion in Sports Media Rights Means $3 Monthly Fee Increase on DirecTV PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 14 February 2013 22:50
DirecTV
The first real signs that regional sports
network media rights fees are trickling
down to customers comes via DirecTV

Maybe the sports television rights bubble hasn’t burst quite yet, but the explosion in how much regional sports networks (RSNs) are expecting from the carriers is finally hitting your wallet.

Whether it is the Rangers ($3 billion), Angels ($3 billion), Astros with the Houston Rockets ($1.6 billion), Padres ($1.2 billion), or Dodgers ($7-$8 billion), and YES’ recent $3 billion valuation, in baseball alone, the massive rights deals being brokered with RSNs have created battles between the networks and carriers. When it hits the carriers, it eventually winds up in your cable or satellite bill.

The first significant case of this is happening with satcaster DirecTV. In August, DTV began adding a $3 a month surcharge for RSNs in markets that had more than one regional sports network. This mostly just impacted larger markets, but now, it will affect all.

Beginning this spring, DTV will expand the fee to all existing customers, meaning a $36 annual increase for consumers. And, DirecTV will not be the only one. As reported by Multichannel News:

Other distributors have followed DirecTV’s lead with the RSN charge – Verizon’s FiOS TV began implementing a $2.42 monthly charge for RSNs in California, Texas and Florida in February, with plans to expand to its remaining sates in March. In Maryland and Virginia, the surcharge will take effect in April.

So, while at the outset it was said that maybe the rights fee bubble may not yet have burst, it’s creating a problem as new deals across the sports landscape begin to have cumulative effect. Just last week, FOX Sports San Diego, which is the RSN that the Padres inked their $1.2 billion deal with, finally landed on DISH. DirecTV was one of the last large carriers to pick up TWC SportsNet, the RSN that was created with the Los Angeles Lakers as their key programming. The rights deal for the Lakers is a reported $4 billion. The Rockets, now nearly halfway through the season are not on DTV via CSN Houston, and the Astros—the largest stakeholder in the new Houston RSN—are about to begin the 2013 season not on DirecTV’s program menu.

Deals will continue to be brokered as media rights deals expire, but the battle to get them on the major carriers, or getting the massive deals that have been recently inked, will continue to be an issue.

Of course, none of this is good for fans. While the financial flexibility is something every sports fan loves to see their favorite club have, if it means a large spike in their cable or satellite TV bill, it comes with a price. The pin is positioned near the bubble. When will it make contact is the question.


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

Follow Maury Brown on Twitter Twitter

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The 2013 MLB on FOX National Broadcast Schedule Released PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 12 February 2013 17:19

MLB on FOXWith the beginning of Spring Training, MLB’s network partners are gearing up for the 2013 regular season. Today, MLB on FOX released their 2013 national broadcast schedule for the “Saturday Game of the Week.”

The 24-week schedule, includes eight consecutive weeks of primetime coverage for the second straight year leading to the 84th MLB All-Star Game. Every U.S.-based team makes at least one appearance this season, and at least one at home during the prime time stretch which begins in late May.

MLB on FOX regional coverage debuts on Saturday, April 6 with a three game schedule that features rematches of both 2012 League Championship Series and a key A.L. West showdown.  That day, the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers host the runner-up New York Yankees, and the World Champion San Francisco Giants welcome the St. Louis Cardinals, while Los Angeles Angels’ with Josh Hamilton returns to the Lone Star State as the Halos travel to face the Texas Rangers.

Primetime coverage of the 2013 season begins Saturday, May 25 (7:00-10:00 PM ET) with five contests featuring the Washington Nationals and N.L. Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper hosting their division rival Philadelphia Phillies, David Freese and the Cardinals in Los Angeles to take on Matt Kemp and the Dodgers; the New York Mets welcoming the Upton brothers and the Atlanta Braves; the Oakland Athletics visiting the Houston Astros, the American League’s newest member; and an interleague tilt with the Chicago White Sox at home against the Miami Marlins. The primetime schedule also includes interleague games on Saturday, June 15June 22 and June 29, and culminates on July 13 with five games, including an N.L. Central battle between the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.  In all, MLB on FOX presents 11 interleague games on eight dates.

The schedule on Saturday, June 1 features the first of this season’s record five Yankees/Red Sox rivalry clashes. It was during an April game on FOX last season that the Yankees, trailing Boston 9-0 after five innings, stormed back with seven runs in the seventh and eighth to notch the improbable 15-9 win.  The Bosox and Bombers also square off on July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 7 and Sept. 14.

The Nationals, Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds are each scheduled to make a maximum nine appearances on FOX, while the Yankees, Tigers, Cardinals, Braves and Dodgers are scheduled for eight appearances. As always, the final two Saturdays of the regular season are designated as “wild card” dates, allowing FOX Sports and MLB to choose games that have postseason implications.  Potential selections include Giants-Yankees on Saturday, Sept. 21 and Angels-Rangers and Cubs-Cardinals on Saturday, Sept. 28.

In addition to its regular-season coverage, FOX Sports broadcasts the 84th MLB All-Star Game, live from Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, on Tuesday, July 16 (7:30-11:30 PM ET), the American League Championship Series and the 109th World Series.

SELECT READ MORE TO SEE THE ENTIRE NATIONAL BROADCAST SCHEDULE FOR THE 2013 MLB REGULAR SEASON

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FOX Sports San Diego and DISH Reach Deal to Carry Padres, Clippers, and Ducks Programming PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 17:00
Dish

FOX Sports San Diego and DISH today announced that as of April 1, 2013, DISH San Diego customers will have access to the Padres, Clippers and Ducks, plus other local sports events for the Southern California franchises.  FOX Sports San Diego will be available for local DISH customers with the America’s Top 120 Plus and Latino Dos packages. Financial terms were not released.

The Padres receive $200 million in upfront money as part of the Fox Sports San Diego rights deal valued $1.2 billion over 30-years. The club has a 20 percent ownership stake in the regional sports network.

“We're delighted that DISH is making Padres on FOX Sports San Diego available to their valued customers,” said Henry Ford, Senior Vice President and General Manager, FOX Sports San Diego. “On Opening Day 2013 Padres baseball will be delivered to more households than ever before.”


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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Dodgers, TWC Announce Landmark TV Deal Creating SportsNet LA PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 28 January 2013 13:12

Dodgers

As anticipated, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Time Warner Cable today announced a new regional sports network with the working name of SportsNet LA that will launch at the beginning of the 2014 Major League Baseball season. In addition to being the exclusive local home for all of the Dodger games, SportsNet LA will provide comprehensive behind-the-scenes Dodger programming, featuring more insights, analysis and commentary. The landmark agreement is worth a reported $7-$8 billion, making it the most lucrative RSN launch in MLB history. The agreement with TWC is subject to certain closing conditions.

The deal has not yet been approved by Major League Baseball over concerns involving a capped amount of revenue-sharing attached to the deal. That issue surfaced as part of the bankruptcy process when Frank McCourt formerly owned the club. It is not believed that the current state of MLB not approving the deal will scuttle it entirely, but without league approval, the possibility of some structural contract changes could come about to address concerns.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) has agreed to be SportsNet LA’s charter distributor, and will carry the new network for its customers throughout Southern California and Hawaii under a long-term affiliation deal. In addition, in return for agreeing to make payments over the life of the deal, TWC will be the exclusive advertising and affiliate sales agent for the new network and will have certain branding and programing rights with respect to the network, and therefore, will guarantee subscription fees. TWC will also provide certain non-game production and technical services to American Media Productions, LLC (AMP), the arm of the Dodgers ownership that was created to launch the RSN.

Mark Walter, Chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said, “We concluded last year that the best way to give our fans what they want - more content and more Dodger baseball - was to launch our own network. The creation of AMP will provide substantial financial resources over the coming years for the Dodgers to build on their storied legacy and bring a World Championship home to Los Angeles. Just as we are actively transforming the team and the stadium, we want the Dodgers to be exhibited on the very best sports network in the country - one that will provide an unrivaled fan experience.”

Todd Boehly, a principal owner of AMP, said, “We are greatly pleased that Time Warner Cable, the largest distributor in the marketplace, has come aboard to support the Dodgers and SportsNet LA as our charter distributor. Their presence in Los Angeles will be invaluable in helping us serve Dodger fans and our community with excellence.”

“We are delighted to support the Dodgers and their ownership group in their launch of SportsNet LA. The Dodgers have one of the most passionate and loyal audiences in sports, and we look forward to helping deliver this new network to their fans,” said David Rone, President of Time Warner Cable Sports. “This deal, like our Lakers’ deal, furthers our efforts to attain greater certainty and control over local and regional sports programming costs.”

“The launch of the new regional sports network is a historic development for the Dodgers and our passionate fans,” said Stan Kasten, CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Our commitment from day one has been to build the Dodgers into the best team possible, both on and off the field. Our fans deserve the best - the best players, the best baseball, and the best experience - whether that’s at the newly renovated Dodger Stadium or on television.”

“Our mission is to have the most fan-friendly sports programming, and we welcome ideas and suggestions from our Dodger Community. We look forward to sharing updates with fans in the coming months. In the meantime, we remain very excited about the upcoming 2013 season where we will be showcasing our incredible new roster and the many enhancements to Dodger Stadium, as well as continuing our commitment to broadcast excellence with our current partners Fox Sports and KCAL 9.”


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

Follow Maury Brown on Twitter Twitter

Follow The Biz of Baseball on TwitterTwitter

 
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