For most, it’s the best of all days. You don’t have to go back to work for about 48 hours, time to take in some games. You love baseball. You either moved away from where your favorite team resides, you live in a market that doesn’t have a club, or you’re a fanatic and want to watch as many games as you can.
You went out and bought an out-of-market package to “catch all the action”. You either doled the bucks out for MLB Extra Innings for television, or MLB.TV for computer, and if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you purchased MLB.com’s At Bat 2010… maybe you’re whacked and have more than one, or possibly all these packages.
And it’s Saturday afternoon, and you decide that you want to watch some other game than what is being broadcast on FOX. To your surprise, it’s blacked out.
Sunday evening, you decide to try again…. Blacked out due to ESPN.
And, depending on your location, you can be blacked out of 1, 2… up to 6 clubs in some locations during the week.
Is it any wonder that the #1 customer service call to MLB centers on its blackout policy? You think of kicking the TV, but you really want to kick yourself for making the purchase before reading the fine print, or someone with the league.
The problem is nothing new. Here we are with the 2010 season nearly complete, and there is no end in sight for MLB’s convoluted, arcane, and, many would say, unwarranted blackout policy. “I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to blackout in those territories,” said MLB President and COO, Bob DuPuy in 2008. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”
2008. And that was after several years of fans, customers, and the media asking, “When are you going to address this issue?”
In 2009, there seemed to be a back door into fans being able to see games in-market, with no blackouts. The problem was (and is) that it costs. On June 24, MLB, YES Network, and CableVision announced that in conjunction with MLB.com, for a one-time fee of $49.95 for the remainder of the 2009 season or $19.95 for any 30-day period thereafter, you could get Yankees games in-market. Just 5 days later, a similar deal was launched by Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres. Both DuPuy, and MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman said at the time in a conference call that this model for in-market streaming would be coming for more and more clubs in the coming months. Having followed the blackout issue in MLB for years, I posed the question to DuPuy, “Is this how MLB plans to deal with the blackout policy?” DuPuy replied that the answer was no, and that the league was still working to address the blackout policy for MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV. To date, the deals with the Yankees and the Padres remain the only in-market streaming packages. According to reports, low subscription rates have plagued both. Whether that is the reason that the league hasn’t branched out, at this point in the season, is unknown.
They say that everyone has a story. If you look at the TV television territory map, or see inside MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV and television blackouts in detail, a large percentage of readers are caught in MLB’s fine print on broadcasts with the out-of-market package at the local and regional level, and everyone that has either MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV gets burned via national blackouts on Saturday, and part of Sunday due to exclusivity agreements with FOX and ESPN.
It’s moved beyond the ridiculous. At least in 2008 there was someone saying that they were trying. The excuse now is likely that the economy. The owners, afraid to relinquish even a cent of revenue, have gone into a bunker mentality. Excuses, excuses… There’s none left. When, oh when, will the league address the blackout policy? Will it take Congress stepping in? Will it take fans turning their back on the packages? The latter seems unlikely. I know I’m hooked. The league has me the wiffles.
Maybe that’s the biggest and most galling part of the blackout policy. The most dedicated fans are the ones getting burned, but many of us are such a mess — addicted — that we take the kicks, and then afterwords, in the throes of our withdrawal, hate ourselves for putting ourselves through the pain.
Remember when Saturday was the best day of the week?
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.