With a reinvigorated roster that includes new additions Dwight Howard and Steve Nash as well as superstar Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers would appear ready to go when they kick off their official season on Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks. The only question is, will you be able to watch them this season? A carriage dispute of mammoth proportions is coming to a head, which could prevent untold numbers of fans from watching their beloved Lakers on the court. For the first time in a long, long time, Los Angeles fans won't be able to watch Lakers games on CBS affiliate KCAL, Channel 9.
The potential crisis stems from the Oct. 1 launch by Time Warner Cable of the premium channels Time Warner Cable SportsNet and the Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes, which have almost exclusive rights to the games throughout the Southern California region, as well as Las Vegas and Nevada. Prior to the launch of the new stations, Laker fans were able to view games as part of their standard cable package or on some broadcast TV channels.
With Time Warner Cable's new networks, other carriers face an extra $3.95 monthly per subscriber, which could lead to a rate increase for subscribers. (Time Warner maintains that there are higher priced regional sports networks, such as Root Sports, which is owned by DirecTV Sports Networks.)
Since the launch, Time Warner Cable has had to patch together deals to bring the Lakers games to television sets in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. As is common with carriage agreements, a number of the negotiations are coming down to the wire as some outlets continue to balk at the fee hike.
Naturally, Time Warner Cable -- which has about 2 million customers in the Los Angeles area and accounts for about one-third of the pay-TV market there -- will carry SportsNet and Deportes. And thanks to recently struck deals, so will AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks. But there are a few holdouts, and they're biggies -- DirecTV, Dish and Cox Communications have all yet to reach agreements with Time Warner. The remaining holdouts continue to negotiate with TimeWarner, and 11th-hour agreements are common in such situations. But, as Dish proved during its protracted battle with AMC Networks -- which left "Breaking Bad" fans who subscribed to Dish out in the cold as the ever-more-popular series entered its fifth and final season -- it's not afraid to wait months for a satisfactory agreement to be forged. So what's a Lakers fan to do if he or she subscribes to the above holdouts? Fear not, there are always options. 1. Get Activist. With the presidential election around the corner, it probably wouldn't hurt to brush up on the democratic process. The NBA is housing a website, IWantMyLakers.com, that allows subscribers to petition their cable carriers to air the games via email. 2. Switch Providers. The ballot box isn't the only place where you can exercise your freedom of choice. If your provider refuses to carry the Lakers, vote with your wallet. 3. Turn the Radio Up. We're well aware -- it's not the same. But you can still catch the Lakers games on the radio, via stations such as ESPN LA 710 AM in Los Angeles and XTRA Sports 1360 in San Diego. Chances are your imagination could use the workout anyway. 4. Raise (or at Least Enter) the Bar. Not willing to shell out for a content provider that carries the Lakers? Los Angeles is home to innumerable watering holes, many of which will carry the games. Yes, you will likely drink away the savings -- but a good buzz will hopefully help to ease the pain. 5. Lower Your Basketball Dosage. Most Lakers games will be carried exclusively on SportsNet and Deportes, but not all -- about a dozen of them (including Tuesday's game) will air on ABC, TNT or ESPN. If you can keep your Laker jones at bay, these occasional bright spots might help see you through the season. 6. Become a Clippers Fan. It's not the shameful proposition that it once was -- and the Clippers can still be seen on local station KCOP, as well as Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. 7. Hit the Road. An extreme option, but you could always go vagabond and follow the team across the country as they play. It can't be that much more expensive than your local cable bill already is, and with California's current unemployment rate there's a better-than-ever chance that you have the free time on your hands.