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By Darian Nourian

Due to dispute among cable providers, Lakers games are only available to those with Time Warner Cable. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers are about to embark on yet another NBA calendar year, kicking off their season October 30 against the Dallas Mavericks. With the new additions of superstars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Laker fans throughout southern Orange County are buzzing over the thought of yet another NBA championship, which would be the franchise’s 17th.

Unfortunately for those fans, at least for now, Lakers games will not be seen by the majority of households in southern Orange County. The reason being that Time Warner Cable, the team’s new $3-billion television partner, has not been able to convince other cable providers to carry their two new networks, Sportsnet and Deportes.

Cox Communications, DirecTV and Dish Network are all major television providers in the area that have continued to hold out on Time Warner’s new networks due to the asking price, which is reported to be $3.95 per subscriber per month, according to a Los Angeles Times report. If a deal is reached between Time Warner and other cable providers, the Lakers will be back on air.

“We are still in negotiations, but we are trying to get the new networks before the Lakers’ first official regular season game,” A public relations representative for Cox Communications said.

A deal between providers is something that all local Lakers fans are hoping for so that they are able to watch the team come October 30.

“I am a huge Lakers fan and it is really tough already not being able to watch their games,” San Clemente resident Oscar Montecinos said. “I just think that it’s getting out of control with all these big TV contracts. It should be about the fans, not the money.”

Some Lakers fans have already gone to extraordinary lengths just to watch their team play.

Steve Behmerwohld, a San Juan Capistrano resident and avid Lakers fan of 30-plus years, switched his television provider from Dish Network to DirecTV before the start of last year’s NBA season. He did so because at the time, it was rumored that Dish Network would no longer carry Lakers games. Dish Network agreed to a deal to air the games one day before the start of the 2011 regular season—after Behmerwohld had already switched providers.

“I understand that when you pay players so much money, somebody has to pay for it, so a television deal of such magnitude (20 years, $3 billion) is justified in an owner’s sense,” Behmerwohld said. “But it is really just a helpless feeling, since we can’t really control what our television providers do. I’m sure that the parties involved will come to a deal, it is just a matter of when and how much.”

When 30 San Clemente residents were asked in an informal survey whether they were willing to pay $3.95 more per month for their television service to be able to watch Lakers games, all 30 responded that they would.

“It is in the best interest of both parties to get this deal done before the start of the regular season and that is what we are hoping for,” a public relations representative from Dish Network said.

This holdout could affect local bars and restaurants, which rely on being able to show these games for business.

Michael Merrigan is the owner of OC Tavern Grill & Sports Bar in San Clemente and his restaurant carries DirecTV.

“The people want to be able to come in and watch the Lakers, especially now more than ever with their exciting new acquisitions in Nash and Howard,” Merrigan said. “We haven’t been affected by the holdout so far, since it’s only the preseason…but as November inches closer, I do worry a little.”

It seems as if professional sports have been attracted to holdouts lately. The NBA and the NFL players and owners’ contract negotiations drew mass media attention at the beginning of their respective seasons. The NHL players association is currently in a dispute with the league and in lock out mode.

Now local television providers are in a dispute with Time Warner Cable. It is just another instance of business affecting the world of sports and many southern Orange County Lakers fans are suffering as a result.

For now fans will just have to remain patient, having already missed the team’s first eight preseason games.

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