Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

MLB Blackouts Ruin MLB.TV

MLB blackouts tarnish an otherwise superb product that MLB.TV has to offer, and is pushing away current and potential fans.

It has been three years since Los Angeles Dodgers games first became widely unviewable in their own city and TV territory, thanks to Time Warner Cable not being able to cut a deal with competing carriers to carry SportsNet LA. This season will also be the last year of legendary Dodgers play-by-play broadcaster, and ultimate storyteller, Vin Scully’s illustrious career. Despite making an unthinkable amount of money off of the TV deal, it is hard to believe the Dodgers ownership ever wanted the situation to deteriorate this badly.

Wouldn’t it be great if Dodgers fans, as well as fans of other teams that may be experiencing a similar situation, had an alternative to this situation?

If you live in an area that isn’t subject to MLB’s archaic blackout policies, you would answer: MLB.TV. If you’re like the residents of Las Vegas, NV, where the Dodgers share territorial rights with five other teams, you understand very well that no matter how much money you throw at MLB for MLB.TV, you’ll still be stuck with the blackouts, whether a provider in your area carries your team or not.

Garber vs. Office of the Commissioner Baseball

Recently, MLB reached a settlement in “Garber vs. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball”, the result of which is that fans who are blacked out from online streaming due to territory can pay $10 more to get the other team’s broadcast of their in-market team.

The settlement falls extremely short of what it should have accomplished. To be eligible for the offer, one has to have a paid TV  subscription, and that paid TV subscription has to carry that specific team’s regional sports channel. This means even if you have a TV subscription in the Dodgers’ large TV territory, you still won’t get out of the blackouts of the Dodgers if your cable provider doesn’t carry SportsNet LA (currently, only Time Warner Cable, its subsidiaries, and Charter are the only providers who carry SportsNet LA). Therefore, for most Dodgers fans, nothing has changed.

It’s obvious that the cable industry is losing subscribers left and right due to the increase of internet streaming options. Because of this, regional sports networks, and all sports networks for that matter, are losing guaranteed monthly revenue every time a TV provider loses a subscriber.

To stay a step ahead of the cord cutting trend, MLB could have provided a solution in which they could allow cable companies and or regional sports networks to sell streaming directly to those who don’t want subscription TV. Instead, MLB elected to allow regional sports networks to continue selling only to the subscription TV providers, leaving the fans with only one or two options available.

Subscription TV providers wouldn’t allow a solution to happen without a fight, but as cable companies continue losing subscribers who don’t want to subsidize the sports fan’s ability to have ESPN and a regional sports network in the basic tier subscription, it’s certainly an idea they would have to consider if it meant they could lower subscriber prices.

Due to the threat of TV subscription providers dropping regional sports from their basic plans, regional sports networks are now starting to hold back in what they pay teams for TV rights in order to keep carrier fees low. As Awful Announcing writes, Fox Sports Prime Ticket recently lowered their TV rights renewal bid to the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, who threatened to start their own exclusive network, similar to their neighbors, the Los Angeles Lakers. One can assume that MLB, a league that does less in TV ratings than the NBA, will soon see this trend with their sport.

If MLB made it so that regional sports networks could sell directly to the fan, the in-market fan would likely have to pay more than usual to get the “local” team they want to watch. However, most fans would probably elect to pay more to watch the team they want to watch, and to not have more of what they don’t care for. This would hopefully mean that, barring greed, regional sports networks like SportsNet LA would sell their carrier rights to TV providers at a lower cost, and that non-sports fans could get pay TV at a lower price.

Ultimately, MLB could have revolutionized how sports rights are distributed in the internet age, but elected not to do so.

MLB Makes Their Most Important Games Hard To Watch

MLB has provided a superb product for its sport with MLB.TV. Its product is so good, other entities like ESPN, HBO, and the NHL rely on MLB Advanced Media to provide their streaming services. However, the fact that MLB makes its own fans jump through inevitable hoops to watch teams they actually care about is mind boggling. What’s even more unbelievable is that MLB makes it hard to watch the games people want to watch the most: The MLB Postseason.

The MLB Postseason, the part of the season most casual fans (a fan base MLB should be concerned about losing) would care about, is as inconvenient as it can be to watch without a TV subscription. If you’re a “cord cutter” and want to watch any live baseball in October, you’ll have to either pony up for a TV subscription, subscribe and wait for the delayed replay on MLB.TV, or wait until the World Series is carried over the air on your local FOX channel.

Again, MLB could have curbed this by allowing or forcing FOX and TBS to sell streaming rights directly to people who want to stream the games, but instead they allowed FOX and TBS to only work with TV providers. As a result, that kid with parents who only have a TV antenna and Netflix won’t get to watch that Game Seven ALCS game. The millennial who is paying off student loan debt may elect to do something other than to go to a sports bar and watch the game. Consequently, both potential fans will go on caring less about baseball.

The ironic part is that MLB is trying to find ways to keep today’s millennials, and the generations that will follow, interested in baseball, and is constantly trying to tweak the actual game to do so. Why not just try making the game more easily available to people who are willing to pay a fair price for it, regardless of TV subscription or where they live?

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