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The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the 2015 season with high hopes, the highest payroll and more than 3 million tickets sold.
And once again, most Dodger fans will only be able to see regular season games if they go to Chavez Ravine.
That's because Time Warner Cable, which paid the Dodgers more than $8 billion to launch SportsNet LA last year, still hasn't come to terms with other television providers to carry the channel. DirecTV is the leading carrier that's refusing to pay a reported $4 a month per subscriber for Dodger games. The standoff leaves seven out of 10 Southern California residents shut out unless they go to the stadium to see the games in person.
There's no resolution in sight.
"For us to still have this many fans unhappy, it's a difficult blow for us," said team President and CEO Stan Kasten in an exclusive interview with CNBC. He called the standoff the most difficult customer relations challenge he's ever faced. "I don't know when the solution will come, but it's not for lack of trying, and until it's fixed, we won't give up."
Both Time Warner Cable and DirecTV are in the process of being acquired—Time Warner Cable by Comcast (CNBC's parent company) and DirecTV by AT&T. The Los Angeles Times reports that few expect any progress until those acquisitions find their resolution in the FCC approval process, even as sources tell the Times that TWC is losing $100 million on the channel due to low ratings and no deals with other carriers.
Comcast declined to comment.
Some fans have suggested the Dodgers are partly to blame by demanding so much money for TV rights, and perhaps the team should return a piece of that action to bring down the cost. "There's nothing the Dodgers haven't considered, said Kasten. "I can tell you that all of the simplistic answers that are out there have a fatal flaw in them, but we continue to work to find something that does work."
As for the team itself, a lot of focus is on whether this will finally be the breakout year for Yasiel Puig, the Cuban immigrant who has shown flashes of greatness. "At 7:25 a.m. I was in the locker room, Puig was already here," said Kasten, "so that's a little sign of his growth, his maturity and his leadership."
While Puig's journey from Cuba to the U.S. was troubled, involving criminal indictments and a violent Mexican drug gang, new relations with Cuba could make such trips much easier.
"As the policies change, we'll be I'm sure at the forefront of whatever opportunities arise," said Kasten. "Obviously, it's a big part of our future."
Fans going to Dodger Stadium this year will see new prepaid parking lanes to ease congestion, metal detectors for security, and new food items such as fried Dodger Dogs, swordfish on a stick, bread cones filled with Tommy Lasorda meatballs, and—this being LA—vegan nachos.
Forbes reports that the team had more than $400 million in revenue last year, but ended up with a $12 million operating loss.
"I never discuss dollars publicly, because it's always about winning and playing on the field," said Kasten. "I think we're going to have a very great season."