In Depth

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

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…