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Column: Major League Baseball, Please Take My Money!!!

Apr 17, 2009  •  Post A Comment

There is $14.95 burning a hole in my pocket every month. It’s itching to jump into the bank account of Major League Baseball every month for the next six months.
But the league won’t let that money leave my wallet. Because I can’t get the games I want with it. Or more specifically, my husband can’t. He’s the baseball fan in the family and he wants to watch his San Francisco Giants play.
He can’t watch them on traditional TV because we no longer subscribe to cable or satellite service as part of an experiment to see whether the Internet can satiate our TV-viewing desires. For the last six months, Internet video has provided us a reasonable facsimile of TV, delivering pretty much all we need.
The one blip has been sports but, aside from baseball, neither one of us watches much. And baseball has always been one of those sports you can watch live online.
Or so we thought.
Shortly after the baseball season started earlier this month, my husband decided to sign up for MLB TV online. That’s a service that delivers nearly 100 games a week online in live, high-definition streaming glory. It’s been around for a few years and is regarded as a battle-tested and sturdy service. It seemed a perfect solution—my husband could watch his team on his Mac Book Pro from the comfort of our home in the Bay Area.
When he went to MLB.com to sign up, he carefully read the blackout restrictions. Those are the rules that specify why games are blacked out—sometimes on TV, sometimes online—in certain local areas. Blackout restrictions are designed to protect the business interests of the teams and the television rights holders, so viewers in the geographical area either have to watch the game at the ballpark or on TV.
Blackout rules also get in the way of watching your local team online. The blackout rules say on MLB.com: “All live games on MLB.TV are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable club’s home television territory (except for certain home television territories for which MLB.com may offer in-market subscription services). If a game is blacked out in an area, it is not available for live game viewing. Each game will be available 45 minutes after the conclusion of the game as an archived game (archived games are blackout-free).”
Did the “in-market subscription” stipulation mean he could watch Giants games, since he was buying a subscription package?
The answer, unfortunately, was no. Still, my husband is a determined fellow. He installed an “anonymizer” service that fools the computer into thinking you live somewhere else. Trouble was, it turned out the anonymizer he used masked his computer with yet another Bay Area location.
I understand that teams need to protect their business interests. I understand they make a lot of money from the broadcast rights. And I respect that they want to lure fans to the ballpark.
But I am wondering if perhaps the idea of blackout restrictions for premium streaming should be revised. We were willing to pay plenty of money to watch live games online. We don’t have cable, so we’re not undercutting broadcasters or cable networks that carry the games. Why won’t Major League Baseball let us pay the league each month to watch games we can’t see in any other fashion?
Major League Baseball did not respond to requests for comment.
It seems to me the league is leaving money on the table, which is a foolish thing to do in this or any economy.
But don’t worry about us. We’ve got some other plans to beat the system and let MLB take our money…

96 Comments

  1. I questioned MLB over the identical situation. They answer me but the person answering me keeps giving me “pre packaged answers”. MLB has a link that says my zipcode has no restrictions; but after several hours of digging on the web, I found it. Las Vegas is blacked out for the S.F. Giants and Oakland A’s.
    I questioned the Giants on how 500+ miles constitutes a LOCAL blackout. Waiting for a reply.
    Good Luck, they claim they will refund your money but with the wizards that work for them, don’t hold your breath.

  2. “We don’t have cable, so we’re not undercutting broadcasters or cable networks that carry the games.”
    Actually, you are, or at least you’re trying to. The whole point of cable exclusivity is that you need to subscribe to it in order to get the games. If they let people get the games another way, that undercuts their business, and the exclusivity they’re paying MLB for.

  3. Here in Phoenix, AZ, MLB.tv’s blackout rules are even more ridiculous. Metro Phoenix has 3 area codes, 602, 480 which covers the central and east valley locations and the 623 area code that is on the west side of Phoenix. San Diego Padres games are not blacked out in the 602 or 480 codes but those of us who live in the 623 area are blacked out so someone who lives 2 miles from me in the 602 area code can receive Padres games. Ironically, the spring training complex is in the 623 area but those who support the team by attending the Padres’ spring training games during spring training are “rewarded” by being blacked out. I’m not a Padres fan but there are times I’d like to be able to see games in which they are playing. It’s 400 miles from here to San Diego so I don’t understand why we’d be considered a threat to their TV ratings, attendance or advertising revenues especially given their games are available to 70% of the Phoenix market. I’ve written to the Padres the past 3 years to get an explanation of why 70% of Phoenix can get the games and 30% can’t. As expected, neither my e-mails nor my phone calls have gone unanswered. E-mails and calls made to MLB.com also went unanswered expect for one non-answer form letter so it’s obvious they don’t care.
    The Arizona Diamondback games are also blacked and while I disagree with the blackout of their games, I understand them trying to protect their TV market but there are many times I don’t have access to cable TV and would like to see their games and since the D’backs only telecast their games on cable, they’re the ones who lose.
    I don’t expect the mental giants at MLB to change this policy anytime soon. They met a couple of weeks ago and a review and easing of blackouts were supposed to be on the agenda but I understand they never brought it up. What a shock huh??

  4. I thought you were writing about me: HUGE Giants fan, no cable, uses MLB.tv, can’t get Giants games. Now that I live in New York it was not a problem, but these people can’t seem to wrap their minds around the concept that not everyone has a TV anymore. Money is lost every second they are stuck in the last century. The worst part is they are paying people a lot of money to be behind the times.

  5. MLB has kept its antiquated protected blackout regions way too long. A previous reader said he lives in Vegas and can’t get the A’s or the Giants. It’s worse. The city also is blacked out from L.A. Dodgers, L.A. Angels, Az Diamondbacks and S.D. Padres. How is this possible? SIX TEAMS regard Vegas as their protected territory and yet all markets are between 4 and 8 hours away by car. It makes no sense and MLB takes no interest in fan concerns and does nothing. There will come a time, sooner than later, that these dollars might just interest the greedy MLB and equally greedy owners who will need to find alternate revenue sources when fans refuse to visit their parks with their ever-escalating ticket and concession prices.

  6. Hey Daisy,
    For SF Giants games just tell your husband to listen to Jon Miller on the radio. With him doing the play-by-play you don’t need the tube. Baseball and the radio go hand and hand and Miller is the best in the business.
    Joe

  7. An east coast perspective. It costs an arm and a leg for NY Yankee tickets in the brand new entertainment Mecca they are calling a sports stadium. Hard Rock inside the stadium?…check. Even the Mets’ brand new Citi Field has a restaurant inside! How can you lure people to the ballpark by trying to sell them tickets they can’t afford? So fans are left watching at home. What will happen when the stadiums are empty? They’ll charge for watching at home or the games will be blacked out. So either way, if you don’t hand over your paycheck to them, you can’t watch. Whatever happened to the fact that, teams only exist because their fans are watching in the first place. Looks like the “business” of the team is sure to silence the fans..they don’t care what you, the fan thinks anyway. Football might even be worse. Soon you won’t be able to attend NY Giants games unless you give the team about 10 grand a year. Funny thing is that I don’t even watch or like baseball, but my tax money sure looks great…in the form of seeing the new Yankee stadium’s outside from a car on the bridge.

  8. As someone who has subscribed to mlb.tv since its inception (Cubs fan here), I haven’t had to deal with too many of these blackout horror stories. Everyone is protecting their turf, and a network that pays a lot of money to get the rights, then sells ads to try and make up those costs, certainly has a say.
    My blackout situation occurs on Saturdays when Fox has the national rights. This past weekend, the Cubs-Cardinals game was the game of the week, except for me in Colorado. The only game I could get on TV was The Rockies-Dodgers game. So because I couldn’t watch the game I wanted to, and had no interest in the Rockies game, Fox basically screwed their own advertisers. For instance, instead of allowing me to watch the Cubs game online (perhaps even with Fox ads inserted), I chose to not watch any. So it’s a lose-lose situation all the way around. I don’t get to see the game I wanted, Fox doesn’t get me as another viewer, and their advertisers missed out on my eyeballs as well.
    There are obviously things to be worked out, but the quality has become amazing. I watch 90% of the Cubs games online now.

  9. I am a Mets fan transplanted to Charlotte, at least 250 miles from the nearest major league ballpark. Yet this market is claimed by no less than four teams – Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Cincinnati?
    I can see games against the Braves on the regional sports networks here, and even the Reds games are available to us. But because of a feud between Time Warner and MASN, the regional carrier for the Nationals and Orioles, any games against those teams (the Mets play both this year) are blacked out in this market
    TWC says there’s not enough local fan interest to warrant the expense of bringing in MASN. Maybe so. But if that’s the case, Major League Baseball should make the Nats & O’s games available via the Extra Innings package.
    I didn’t buy the package last year for just that reason. MLB I want to pay you to see the Mets. All I’m asking you is to give me everything I pay for.

  10. you go to a ball park to watch your favorite Game..
    You pay for gas to get there, You pay for parking..
    Your Game ticket is costly too.
    add in $5.00 hot dogs, Drinks $5.00 and Up
    add in a program, a baseball Cap, and don’t
    forget the restroom line ! and how nice that small little seat in the stadium is…
    The Guy next you who supports the other team..
    or the drunk behind you who spits…or spills
    his drink on you..
    And just as your seatled down, here comes the
    “WAVE ”
    You easily spend over $100.00 for just one game
    per person.. and that going Cheap !
    Then you ask, isn’t easier just to pay the MLB
    folks $14.99 for a game in the comfort of your own home.. and if your bored…well there is
    alway’s Golf on somewhere ! Go Tiger !

  11. What you all seem to miss is the point that Broadcast TV & Cable pay the freight for these leagues and the $15/month you want to pay for online viewing wouldn’t cover the tax on the peanuts.. If you undercut the leagues main source of income by watching just online, the league loses the big money and your monthly fee would eventually climb into the hundreds per month. If major league baseball had to survive only on those people willing to subscribe to games online, the annual costs could be in the thousands.. The Broadcast & Cable networks are willing to take a loss on sports rights fees to help build other time periods. Without them, the leagues would have to survive on thier own and that model doesn’t work with the today’s high sports salries..

  12. Great article!- and interesting comments. This is a great example of a collision of business models. To TV Guys point- the economics aren’t there for online consumption right now. But can the MLB continue to survive on the model it had- or can it find a way to change with the times to meet the needs of the consumer? Can Cable/Broadcast somehow monetize downstream IE; online- in a way that won’t kill the model they live on now?

  13. Daisy
    Love your stuff, but I’m wondering how a columnist who writes about television survives without cable.

  14. The other problem with the author is that someone has to produce these games. Broadcasts don’t come out of thin air. The regional sports networks produce these games and don’t want them sold by MLB on their home turf, undercutting their ad revenue.
    If everyone followed your lead the business model would fall apart and there would be no one to produce the games.

  15. My first suggestion, Daisy, & others similarly situated, is to get yourself a Slingbox & install it at a relative’s or friend’s home with cable in a market where such games are not blacked out. Then tell MLB.com to take a hike.
    Second, I’d suggest you write your local Congressional representative. Yes, these laws need to be changed in light of how the Internet has altered how media is delivered to the consumer. It is no longer one that is limited to the “local market,” but rather one that is, or is quickly becoming, global.
    The foregoing not only applies to sports programming, but a consumer’s desire to view “distant” local broadcasts. The argument against this is the hypothetical loss of viewership to the local affiliate or network-owned station. Well, then the solution is to pay some small monthly fee to the local station to compensate for that hypothetical loss.
    Living on the West Coast, it is ridiculous, as well as bit insulting, to watch “live” programming that simply isn’t live, but delayed 3 hours. Viewers are prohibited from watching earlier broadcasts from other markets in order that the local station get the viewership it needs in order to sell local advertising. In the age of DVRs, this underlying premise no longer holds.
    Bottom line, local broadcast markets should be opened to any viewer who wish to pay some fee that will compensate his/her local station for loss of viewership.

  16. Daisy, how do you write a column about entertainment, regardless of delivery vehicle, and not subscribe to cable tv? unreal! experiment or not, what credibility do you now have…..
    regarding watching the games….your husband has options as others have pointed out, but the easiest one is to just pay the small feel that your cable operator is offering for basic service and get the full games, in high definition, that you can view live or record on his DVR box, and call it day. Cable TV is a GREAT VALUE. Stop fighting the system and just get on with your life.

  17. Is it the goal of your article to get the blackout restrictions either removed, or changed? Or simply to alert us to the fact that MLB.com has rules that you don’t like? Is it your contention that if they didn’t have the blackout rules, that you’d give them, what, an extra fifty cents a day to see your home team? It seems to me that waiting for the game to be archived is the way to go, and suck it up. Why do you need to see it live?
    PS, I see Dodger games free on FSN after the fact, as well as Laker games. Doesn’t seem to get in the way….

  18. Regarding why I need to see it live: Because there is nothing duller than watching sports events that have already occurred!
    Regarding how a reporter who covers TV can survive without cable: it’s possible and doable because 1. a little thing called broadcast TV and 2. a little thing called the Internet.
    There is more than one way to skin a cat and programming is available in many places. Cable is not the only way to watch TV, not at all! You can find TV online and that’s what the new media world is all about.
    Regarding paying the freight: of course someone needs to. But MLB should also let those who don’t have cable have the chance TO PAY for watching games

  19. “Cable is not the only way to watch TV, not at all! You can find TV online and that’s what the new media world is all about.”
    Absolutely. But right now the business models of the more traditional media are still in play. It’s likely that things will eventually get to where you want them to be, but for the present MLB and cable are protecting their turf, because they see more immediate financial benefit in doing so.

  20. like you DAIsy i go without TV, but in the UK i have to use illegal means for sports

  21. Those Wizards just won the John Wall sweepstakes,topped the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets

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