Sunday, June 07, 2015

Dodger Blues

I am a big Dodger fan. True Blue and all that.

This was the team that brought the major leagues to my minor league city when they moved to L.A. from Brooklyn in 1958.

No matter that in their first season, they finished 21 games out of first place. These were players I had only seen on baseball cards and Wheaties boxes before they came west. And now they were my guys.

I have remained hooked, partially because of the success of the team but also because of the joy of hearing Vin Scully calling the Dodger games.  It isn’t broadcasting. It is baseball set to poetry. And it has been a welcome constant in my life.

Then, a year and a half ago, it all came to an end. The Dodgers and Scully were  ripped from our lives, the result of mismanagement, greed and insensitivity.

It seems Times Warner Cable ponied up a cool $8 billion for the broadcast rights to the Dodgers, then couldn’t sell the package to other carriers because they needed to charge too much to recoup their outrageous purchase price. The result: Only Time Warner customers received the games. That cut about 70 per cent of fans in the greater Los Angeles out of the action.

It could have been resolved by Time Warner. It could have been resolved by the Dodgers. It could have been resolved through political pressure. It wasn’t. Fan loyalty be damned.

Now, there is a breakthrough. Time Warner and Charter Communication have decided to merge. Charter, a cable company which operates in my area, will begin offering Dodger games next week.

I should be delighted. But I am dismayed.

I was a reluctant customer of Charter for many years.  I had no choice.  Charter monopolized the area in which I live and it was either them or rabbit ear antennas.

It was a relationship characterized by absurdly bad customer service coupled with  poor quality reception and frequent outages. 

Among my memories of Charter:

--- An automated call-in system so complicated it could serve as the entrance exam for Caltech.

--- The day two repairmen showed up to fix something wrong with our reception. After about 45 minutes, I found them both standing motionless in the back yard. When I asked what was wrong, one replied, “Well, neither one of us is in charge so we can’t tell each other what to do.”  With that, they left.

--- The day I complained about reception and was told that it would take rewiring the entire block to fix it and that I would need all my neighbors to also complain before anything could be done.

--- When the picture went dark, I would have to call the neighbors to see if the cable was out in their home as well.  Customer service couldn’t tell me if it was just me or the entire system.

All of this led me to switch to AT&T U-verse at the first opportunity.  It isn’t perfect. But it isn’t Charter either.

Let’s be honest here. Beloved cable /Internet/phone providers is an oxymoron that ranks right up there with soothing rap music, efficient congressmen and friendly IRS auditors.

In Bloomberg’s 20 most hated American companies, TV and Internet providers occupy five spots. Charter ranks as ninth most loathed.

Things may have changed since the last time I hooked up with Charter. For all I know, they may be the last word in customer service these days.  But based on my research, nothing could be further from the truth.

On the Customer Service Scoreboard website, 220 out of 238 comments posted were negative. Charter’s customer service is ranked No. 347 out of the 805 companies that have a Customer Service rating with an overall score of 35.36 out of a possible 200. This score rates Charter customer service and customer support as “Disappointing.”

Out of 141 Yelp reviews of Charter’s operations in the Glendale area, 120 gave them one star out a possible five stars.

And, of course, there’s the 500 pound gorilla in the room. The consumer will end up paying for this Dodger fisasco. That $8 billion IOU isn’t going to go away.

So here’s the dilemma: Should I switch over to Charter so I can enjoy my beloved Dodgers again?  Is it worth the aggravation it most certainly will cause?

Or should I wait it out, betting the Dodgers will eventually appear on every cable system in Southern California?

I’ll wait.  At some point, sanity will be restored.

In the meantime, I’ll listen to Scully on the radio, go to a sports bar or wait for the Dodgers to appear on network TV, as they do periodically.

It may not be the best solution but it beats being a Charter chump.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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