Siberian Baseball

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What does MLB have to lose by lifting blackout restrictions?

Like most baseball fans, I am not independently wealthy. This means that I am forced to spend large chunks of my time on this earth working to pay for all sorts of things like food, shelter and Xbox games.

Why must I do this without live baseball being streamed directly to my laptop?

As I understand it, the big reason behind blackouts is to push fans to the games (The Bill Wirtz Theory of Fan Aliention), to punish a fan base for failing to get off their lazy asses and buy tickets (we're looking at you, Minnesota Vikings fans) and to drive fans crazy by denying them a few moments of peace by watching an inning or two of the home team while they eat lunch at work.

There are certain instances - especially regarding technology - where policies that once made a lot of sense are suddenly made less sensible. This seems to be one of those cases.

While the easiest solution would be to find a fan in a town you have zero interest in (like Toronto) and swap logins with them, I question why the league hasn't lifted blackouts on the web. I can watch both Cubs and White Sox games (home and away) at home, but I'm guessing that hauling in a TV to my desk might raise a few eyebrows.

No one in their right mind is going to opt for a streamed ballgame above high def or going to a game in person. This is pretty much a last, best option for those of us stuck at work during day games or forced to stay late from time to time.

When I don't see the local teams on the MLB Extra Innings package, it makes sense - the games are on local TV anyways. When I can't see them on a web broadcast, it just makes me think MLB doesn't want to be my friend anymore.

Does anyone have an explaination for these odd blackout rules?



  • What is almost certainly happening is that MLB and each of its teams has some type of clause with each of its local TV partners that disallows Internet streaming locally. While I think it's an antiquated rule personally, I can understand this current position.

    For example, WGN gets "credit" (for lack of a better word) in the Nielsen ratings when a viewer watches a Cubs game on local television. (We'll just look strictly at the WGN Chicago feed and set aside its separate superstation feed that's beamed across the country.) Those Nielsen ratings translate into the ability for WGN to charge higher advertising rates during those Cubs games. However, WGN currently receives no "credit" for someone that watches a Cubs game on (or MLB Extra Innings, for that matter). As a result, WGN can't charge for advertising to take into account those streaming viewers (and in fact, would actually lose advertising dollars for each person that decides to watch a game online as opposed to television). So, the potential loss of Chicago-area viewers of Cubs games from TV to online completely outweighs any possible benefit from allowing the segment of the population that you're referring to (i.e. the people stuck at work during the day) access online in the Chicago-area. If I were running WGN or any other station that broadcasted a local team, I would fight like hell for an online local blackout, as well.

    The only reasonably possible solution that I can think of is to find a way to give WGN and other local broadcasters to receive some type of financial benefit from allowing local streaming that would compensate for the potential loss of television viewers to online viewers (whether it's based upon the actual number of streamers or some lump sum payout).

    The potential problem, however, is that revenue is currently distributed equally among the 30 baseball teams, but a popular team like the Cubs is likely going to get a lot more online streams than a smaller market team. So, a station like WGN would need to receive more than the Royals' home station in order to be fairly compensated for the larger number of TV viewers lost to online streamers in Chicago versus Kansas City. If that were to happen, though, that would mean that revenue wouldn't be distributed equally anymore (which would likely be a non-starter for most of the teams in baseball that already see the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, and Dodgers receive disproportionate revenue).

    I guess this all boils down to that this isn't as simple of a problem as it sounds. Since local TV rights are usually the #2 source of revenue (after ticket sales) for each team, the local broadcasters are going to get extremely high priority in terms of protection. ( revenue, on the other hand, would likely amount to a rounding error on the income statement of the average baseball team.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At Monday, April 13, 2009 3:48:00 PM  

  • I've thought of a possible solution to the issues that I brought up before. As I previously noted, WGN is broadcasted nationwide via cable. There are two separate feeds - one for the Chicago area and another for the rest of the nation. So, for each Cubs, White Sox, and Bulls game on WGN, the station has separate charges for advertising on each of those feeds. (So, you don't see Victory Auto Wrecker and Moo & Oink ads on WGN superstation.)

    The same can be done on the Internet - WGN and other local broadcasters can have a separate Internet feed where they would be able to sell an additional advertising package for games that are streamed online. Indeed, this is how most broadcast radio stations operate their Internet streams. This way, the local TV broadcasters are able to monetize the games that are streamed online in their local markets (as opposed to simply risking losing "credit" for those viewers and the associated advertising dollars in the event that a person chooses to watch online instead of TV).

    I will tackle peace in the Middle East as my next topic.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At Wednesday, April 15, 2009 2:01:00 PM  

  • I understand the logic of the rules (even though they still suck). The problem for someone like me is that my cable provider doesn't carry the channel that shows most of the home market team's games (which happens to be my team: The Phillies). So I can't stream games or buy the MLB extra innings package for a team that I CAN'T WATCH ANYWAY SINCE I DON'T HAVE THE CHANNEL THAT SHOWS THEIR GAMES.

    At least if the rules discriminated by Cable Provider rather than region, I would be able to watch the Phillies via paid means (like MLB.TV or Extra Innings) since my particular cable provider is too cheap to offer the Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

    The rules should not apply when your cable provider doesn't offer the games on TV. As it stands, I'm already "blacked-out" by my cable provider. The "home market blackout" which stops me from paying to watch them is simply cruel and senseless.

    By Blogger John V, At Thursday, June 04, 2009 4:17:00 PM  

  • strikes me as a hugely underwhelming service given its blackout restrictions. It seems like the restrictions are totally backwards -- why on earth would I pay a monthly fee to be able to watch baseball games for any team except the one I want -- my LOCAL team? Talk about kicking the legs out from a potentially great service.

    By Blogger emil, At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 2:09:00 PM  

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