A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.
There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.
So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:
- Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season. These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package. So, cord cutters welcome here.
- The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99. What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
- For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment. That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall. (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
- In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well. However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only. Price of this is still TBD.
- Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
- If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
- By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”. This is completely different from the single-team package above. FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time. This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
- Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all. They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!
Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider. Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.
You can read the entire case settlement here:
The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them. If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.
Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content. This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.