Who will join the Lakers to fill out Time Warner’s RSN’s?

As news of the Lakers deal with Time Warner sends shockwaves throughout Southern California’s sports media landscape, the impact is still unknown and several questions remain.  Fox Sports maintained their dominance over the years fending off challengers like ESPN, but this will come to an end when Time Warner’s two new RSN’s launch with the Lakers as their anchor beginning with the 2012-13 NBA season.  The Dodgers and the Pac-10 Conference are both looking for new TV contracts with their current deals expiring in 2013 and 2012 respectively.  The Angels will also be in play following the 2015 season.

The Dodgers shared aspirations to start an RSN, but they may not be able to sever their longstanding ties with Fox.  Parent company News Corp originally purchased the team from the O’Malley family to prevent ESPN from creating their own RSN or ESPN West.  After accomplishing this goal, owning the Dodgers was no longer necessary so they then helped finance the purchase by the McCourt family by lending them close to half the money to buy the team.  Current rumors are Fox is now going to front the money needed for Frank McCourt to settle the pending divorce case with Jamie McCourt in order to maintain ownership of the team as part of a new long term TV deal, which will keep the Dodgers on Fox’s Prime Ticket.  MLB’s commissioner Bud Selig must approve this type of deal, which for some reason seems to be on hold even though Fox has significant leverage with the league as their biggest network partner. 

The Dodgers may not be an option, but what better way to compliment the Lakers programming on the new Time Warner RSN’s than with baseball.  The seasons are opposite each other for the most part and the Dodgers huge Hispanic fan base is perfect for the Spanish station.  Time Warner is also a current Dodgers sponsor.  Even though this should be an ideal match, the Pac-10 or Angels may be more realistic options. 

Both of these properties are not in a bind forcing their hand or limiting their options as is the case with the Dodgers.  The Pac-10 is aggressively rebuilding their brand and trying to level the playing field with the other college conferences.  There is plenty of programming to offer from the wide range of college sports, but the summer months will still be thin.  Because of this, the Angels offer the most balance to Time Warner and provide a strong alternative to the Dodgers.  It will also allow Time Warner to cast a wider net into Orange County.  In any case, there is now competition in the market and all the local teams should benefit when it is time to sign their new deals.  Content is still king and an RSN with limited programming will be challenged. 

Part 2: A look at digital rights and in-market streaming