Tag Archives: MLB Blackout

Two Things You Should Know Today About Major League Baseball on TV

 

1: Televised baseball is not dying.

Several times each year over the past several years, we have been treated to predictions of the demise of baseball in America, and the main proof of that always comes in the form of comparative TV ratings.  Just last year, for instance, we were informed that the opening tilt of the Royals-Giants World Series was the lowest rated Game 1 in history.  “[The World] Series is on, and everybody is watching … football”, gloated the New York Times headline.  Not only that, but more people watched “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS: New Orleans” than the World Series, which was outdrawn even by “The Walking Dead”, a cable show about zombies, for crying out loud.  In case you were too thick to understand the implication, the Times made it clear in so many words: “Baseball is no longer the center of attention in a new landscape”.  Translation: Baseball is dying.

So what are we to make of Maury Brown’s article in Forbes yesterday: that in most of the largest markets in the country, baseball is actually outdrawing the NBA and the NHL in TV viewers?  You can see from these ratings in 14 markets from last Wednesday night, when two top NBA playoff games and the NHL’s Rangers-Capitals overtime win competed against the Mets and Cubs on ESPN, that baseball won the night against basketball and football:

RSNRatings1
h/t Forbes. Click through graphic to full article.

Isn’t this going against the narrative we’ve become so accustomed to hearing lately?

Yes, it is, but the thing is that that narrative always contemplates baseball’s national telecasts versus those of the other sports, particularly football, and especially in October.  Here is the thing to remember, though: baseball is a local and regional sport.  People care about their teams.  So when their team is on their local regional network, people will watch those games over playoff games in other sports involving out of town teams.  And that’s what we see in the chart above: baseball on regional sports networks beating other sports on the national sports networks.

Granted, none of the markets above had any local teams in the NBA or NHL playoffs, so there was no competition between multiple local teams in different sports in any of these markets.  And the NBA and NHL national telecasts did beat the baseball national telecast.

But really, that’s the point: baseball, and all league sports in this country, are a local and regional obsession.  People are naturally more interested in their local team than in out of town teams.  And people are naturally more interested in playoffs games than in regular season games.  If the Mets did not beat the Rangers in New York, or the Braves did not beat the Hawks in Atlanta, that’s really understandable, isn’t it?  After all, the Rangers and Hawks are in the playoffs fighting for their lives.  In baseball, it’s still mid-May.

But if televised baseball really were dying, it would be losing to televised basketball and televised football every time, regardless of the team involved.  That’s the central conceit of the (admittedly strawman) argument.  But it doesn’t, because baseball is a local and regional sport, and a thriving one at that.

Just remember the part in italics above next time anyone suggests to you that baseball is no longer important in the “new landscape” of American sports.

2: The potential removal of the MLB blackout restriction took an important step forward on Friday.

Judge Shira Scheindlin, the judge from the Southern District of New York who is hearing the suit against MLB and the NHL brought by a group of fans, has allowed the suit to advance to class action status.

The fans claim that the leagues engage in anticompetitive behavior by forcing out of market fans to purchase a high-priced complete bundle of every game except those involving their local teams, which forces those fans to also subscribe to their local regional sports network through a cable or national provider in order to be able to see their local teams, which from the plaintiffs’ view must be the worst of both worlds.  This circumstance mainly hurts the fan choosing to see their baseball on MLB.TV who, unless they are smart cookies, may never be able to see their local team on TV while they’re at home.

By allowing the suit to be heard as a class-action suit, fans can now fight the leagues in court collectively rather than on an individual basis, which makes it easier and cheaper for the plaintiffs to pursue the suit at all.  The plaintiffs are seeking lower prices for streamed games resulting from greater competition; to be able to pick and choose which out of town teams whose games they want to purchase rather than buying a bundle; and to be able to watch their local teams via streaming.

This is a fairly slow moving case that will probably take a period of time measured primarily in years to resolve, but the suit is moving apace.

News Bites for February 6, 2015

Cubs radio job draws hundreds of pros … and fans.  Over 400 resumes have poured in for the new third announcer position on Cubs radio broadcasts airing on new flagship WBBM-AM, not only from pros, but from dewey-eyed “lifetime Cubs fans who got an autograph from their favorite player when they were 7.  Because of that, they are perfect for the job.”  Yes.  That is perfect.

MLB’s Awful Blackout Rules Are Finally Under Attack In Court.  If you haven’t read this Deadspin piece, consider clicking the link and doing so.

MLB Blackout Restrictions are the Same Old Story.  An op-ed piece against the restrictions by generally excellent Vice News.

Shedding Light on Blackouts: Nothing Wrong with MLB’s Territorial Rights.  Here’s a relatively contrary point of view presented without comment, other than to say be sure to read the comments as well.

Manfred predicts resolution in Orioles, Nationals TV dispute.  The crux of the biscuit lies in what “fair market value” means, dictating what the Orioles, supermajority owner of MASN, should be paying the Nationals for their games on the RSN.  The Nats are looking for a 3x annual increase for post-2012 games versus pre-2012 games.

Tigers to appear on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball 3 times in May.  What, no Yankees?  What are we supposed to complain about now?

Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth’s likeability questioned by John Feinstein. Interesting question: do baseball players owe beat writers not only their time and attention, but their pleasantness and deference as well?  And are writers justified in criticizing players’ personalities when they feel players don’t sufficiently comply?

Harrisburg, Penn. radio station dumps Phillies for Nationals.  Insert Phillies on-field-performance jokes here.  Remember, also, that Harrisburg is home to the National’s Double-A affiliate.

Louisville Baseball Releases 2015 Radio Schedule.  Fifty-three of the university’s regular season games, all postseason games to be aired on 93.9 The Ville or 1450 WXVW.

Great Lakes Loons hire Chris Vosters as new play-by-play announcer.  Chris Vosters called two seasons in the collegiate summer Northwoods Baseball League.

Lexington radio station to broadcast Blowfish games. Z93.1 The Lake will broadcast play-by-play action for all 56 games for the Coastal Plain League team for the 2015 season, plus any playoff games they might play.

Signups for 2015 MLB.TV are underway. Baldly promotional release, although it’s entertaining the way the Brit calls the package “brilliant.”

New Commissioner Rob Does Not Want To Budge on MLB Blackouts

 

Rob Manfred has been making the media interview rounds of late, speaking with ESPN, the Los Angeles Times and Fox Sports, among others.  But by far, the most interesting interview took place with Maury Brown of Forbes.com, at least from our standpoint, because it is the only interview in which the suboptimal (from the fan’s POV) state of out of market game broadcasts was broached.

The other day, we posted about last week’s ruling in the District Court of Southern New York in which Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected MLB’s petition of a summary judgement against the several fans bringing suit challenging Baseball’s monopoly on delivering broadcasts of games to out of market fans, because of high pricing and lack of availability based on the crazy quilt that is Baseball’s territory map.  Every square inch of the United States falls into the territory of one team or another—or even six, in some cases, as demonstrated by this map:

(h/t Deadspin)

Iowa, in particular, is one of the unluckiest places in the country to be a baseball fan, especially if you’re a fan of the Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Cardinals and Royals.  It’s even worse when you realize that on some days during the season, as many as 40% of all major league teams are completely unavailable for you to watch (since the blackout affects their opponents that day, as well.)

So unlike the other three vehicles mentioned earlier–all of which are owned by media companies who broadcast major league ballgames–Brown was free to ask the prickly questions about the restrictive broadcast policies to an annoyed commish that the others presumably were not.

Here’s the key question from the Brown interview:

Maury Brown: The #1 customer complaint to MLB.com is about the league’s blackout policy. There are some markets that see as many as 6 teams blacked out due to club TV territories. What would you say to fans that pay to see games, yet wonder why a business would limit its product to them?

Rob Manfred: Television territories that cause these blackouts are integral to the economics of the game. They’re a foundation of the very structure of the league. Blackouts are actually caused, not by our desire not to cover that area, but by the inability of the rights holder to get distribution in certain parts of the television territories. It’s not solely our issue to resolve. Having said that I am aware of these complaints and whenever we have an issue like this we are constantly evaluating how we do business to make sure we are as fan friendly as possible.

Did you get that?  MLB blackouts are not caused by asinine MLB blackout policies.  MLB blackouts are caused by ineffectual broadcast partners who are unable to get distribution in the affected areas, many of which are outside of the DMA in which the team is located, and some of which are over 1,000 miles away from where the team plays.  So if you want to watch any of the blacked out teams on TV, you better subscribe to satellite or cable AND hope you have an RSN on your system that offers your favorite team.  Because if you don’t, you are SOL (“so out of luck”).

It strikes me as disingenuous that MLB should blame their rights-holding partners for the inability to broadcast games in certain areas because of the way Baseball themselves drew up the map.  After all, MLB could open up huge swaths of territory that does not host any major league teams and allow them to be free of such broadcast restrictions, if they so wanted.  Digital commercial insertion technology exists that could deliver local or regional commercials, the same ones that local RSNs show to their viewers in the area, to those in the area who are watching on Extra Innings or MLB.TV as well.  So there could be a revenue stream that could mollify the RSNs on that front.

One thing is pretty clear from Brown’s interview, however: Manfred thinks MLB’s out of market broadcast policy is peachy just the way it is.  And to change it, it’s going to take nothing less than overturning the broadcast monopoly that MLB presumes they have in court.