On the night of August 28, 1953, the National League-leading Dodgers battled to a 9-8 win over the visiting Cincinnati Redlegs (as the "Reds" had officially renamed themselves that year in the face of McCarthy-era pressures) while Brooklyn team owner Walter O'Malley looked out at over a half-empty ball park. The small size of the crowd was hardly unusual that year for the now fabled "Boys of Summer": season home game attendance was down by 600,000, more than a third, from its 1947 peak. As O'Malley remembered at a congressional hearing in 1957, "one night we had 15,700 people in Ebbets Field and I asked a radio-wise man who was with me ... how many sets were tuned in to that particular game. And after some phone calling he came back and said, 'Walter, there are about 2,440,000 sets watching this game.'" "That," O'Malley said, "made me convert right away" to the idea of coming up with a way to make that couch-potato fan pay for watching a telecast at home.
True, the Dodgers were earning more than $500,000 in 1953 from free, over-the-air broadcasts of their games. That number would increase to about $900,000 three years later—the most in baseball. But calculating that fans would pay one dollar to watch a game on their home television sets, and that 500,000 sets would be tuned into each game, the per-game gross from a pay television system would amount to $500,000—a sum that over the course of a season would dwarf what the team was taking in under its existing television contracts.
No surprise, then, that O'Malley (along with his partner in expansion to the West Coast, New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham) was soon talking to a start-up pay-television company called Skiatron TV. By 1957, Skiatron claimed that it had the technology in place to televise Dodger and Giant games to the home-television sets of fee-paying customers. One quarter of the gross would go to the ball club. So if just 500,000 of the more than two-million fans said to be watching a game only for the price of having to sit through commercials for Lucky Strike cigarettes and Schaefer beer instead tuned in and paid a dollar for the privilege, the clubs' share would amount to $125,000 per game. The total for the full slate of 77 home games would add up to a scarcely believable $10 million.
But not in Brooklyn or New York, where fans and politicos were not going to give up their "right" to free televised baseball. Not only would adoption of any pay system have to await the expiration of the commercial broadcasting agreements in place, but the New York City Council hastened to bar the award of pay-television franchises within the five boroughs. And so California appeared to be a far more favorable venue for this venture—and when the 1958 season opened, the Dodgers were in Los Angeles and the Giants in San Francisco.