Tag Archives: Rob Manfred

Here’s Your Bullet Point Guide to the Garber v. MLB Broadcast Lawsuit Settlement

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ..."
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …”

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:

Garber et al v. MLB et al

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.

 

Baseball’s Upholding of the Pete Rose Ban: Least Surprising Outcome Ever.

So it looks as though, finally, Baseball has closed the door on Pete Rose’s reinstatement, locked it, and thrown away the key for good. Did anyone seriously expect otherwise? Maybe those people with big hopes who believe in the kind of magic that changes hardened hearts and minds—maybe they thought there was a chance. Pete’s suffered enough, they say—25 years is a long time, too long. C’mon, he’s the Hit King™, for cry eye, one of the greatest players in baseball history. There are lots worse guys than Pete in the Hall of Fame. Give the guy a break, would ya?

For those of us who, for better or worse, are grounded in the Realpolitik of the everyday world, though, this outcome was always a foregone conclusion.

The wailing of Pete’s most ardent apologists notwithstanding, I think most people are very comfortable with this (presumably) final decision. Pete has repeatedly shot himself in the foot on this subject from the word “go”, up to and including his September 24 meeting with Manfred, during which Pete not only denied any memory of betting on games he was involved in as a player, a fact which had been revealed in an ESPN report earlier this year, but also, in horrifyingly clueless fashion, admitted that he still likes to gamble on baseball these days.

Maybe there was no way Rob Manfred was ever going to let Pete back into the game under any circumstances, but Pete’s admissions in their meeting made this a far easier task for Manfred than he had a right to hope for.

But this no-brainer decision was not just about Pete Rose. It was also about maintaining the global integrity of Baseball’s position on gambling on ballgames. After all, what would have happened had Manfred relented and let Pete back in? Wouldn’t Baseball have to let back in everybody else who’d ever been declared permanently ineligible for gambling, including all the Black Sox? And wouldn’t Baseball have to forego the permanent ineligibility death sentence, which has been etched into its rules for a century, for all future in-game gambling incidents that might arise? And if Baseball simply ignored such inconsistencies and decided that Pete Rose was a special case for whatever reason, wouldn’t they have to explain and defend that decision over and over again in the public square in perpetuity? That scenario represents a parade of horribles that Baseball wisely wanted no part of. Regarding the situation in that light, it’s easy to see why his continued banishment was a fait accompli.

Of course, Baseball has a huge skeleton in its own closet when it comes to their current relationship with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) behemoths DraftKings and FanDuel.  For the moment, Baseball can still maintain that DFS is, as the industry mantra goes, a “Game! Of! Skill!“, although a recent decision by the New York Supreme Court begs to differ on that point. (DFS sites are currently still operating in New York under a stay of injunction while the decision is being further reviewed.) Whether the ink-stained wretches go after Manfred on their DFS connection and hold his feet to the fire in the wake of the Rose decision remains to be seen.

None of that matters as it relates to Pete Rose, though. That particular horse has left the barn, and it ain’t coming back.

Below is a re-posting of an article we originally published in April, after the announcement that Pete would join FS1’s major league pre-game coverage, in which we originally presented our case that not only would Baseball not reinstate Pete this year, but they in fact can never, ever reinstate Pete Rose.

Enjoy!


It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.

“No, I am not Elton John. Why the hell are you asking me that!?”

In the FoxSports.com article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.  ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”

If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests.  At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in.  But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Pete says: I never bet on my team to lose.

We’ll probably never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to.  In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.

I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes.  It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been, perhaps in part because I grew up in Detroit as an American League fan. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.

And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he will be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, will ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rule intact, they are duty-bound to keep him out.

(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. But then Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception just for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that exercise.)

I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated by Baseball so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.  But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(d):

BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets.  Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban.  Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility.  Not a “lifetime ban”, mind you. Permanent ineligibility. That’s substantially different.

Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat.  Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played and the 785 games he managed.  No major league player since since the 1920s can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.

To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including a few of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee. But it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain this penalty for future infractions.  They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.

Pete Rose Baseball
 I know you are, Pete. I know.

Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the whole of the sport, including on all the actual baseball games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continue reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.

Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose?  Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them?  Where is the “there” there?

I don’t think there is a “there” there.  Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although this exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose into Baseball’s business when it feels like it, and Baseball can do nothing but grin painfully and say “be my guest” while they do so.  So the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of any perceived weakening of its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us.  We promise to be good boys.

I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox.  If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and forever.

Forbes.com: Fox, MLB in Talks to Stream Local Broadcasts

(h/t forbes.com)

(h/t forbes.com)

On the heels on an interview Maury Brown of Forbes.com had with Rob Manfred, the new MLB Commissioner, in which the latter’s statement that Baseball’s blackout policy is a by-product of a territories system that is the “foundation of the very structure of the league”—a statement that blazed a trail throughout the American social media landscape all this week—comes word from Brown that MLB and Fox are in negotiations to air all Fox regional sports networks (RSN) baseball broadcasts into local markets via streaming, something that has been unavailable since the beginning of streaming.

Under the plan, MLB Advanced Media is seeking to stream games broadcast by Fox RSNs within the team’s local market through their MLB.TV app, which is available on computers such as PC and Mac desktops and laptops; through set-top devices such as Xbox, Playstations, Apple TV, smart TVs and the like; and through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets using the MLB At Bat app.  Fox Sports would also like to participate in the streaming action, showing games on their own Fox Sports Go app which is also available most if not all the same devices.  Brown says this control of the stream is a major sticking point holding up the agreement, which is said to be in the late stages of negotiation.

As Brown indicates, an agreement between Fox and MLB would free about 40% of all regional and local broadcasts to be streamed within their teams’ local markets, since that represents Fox’s share of such broadcasts.  The other major RSNs operated by Comcast and Root Sports don’t appear to be part of the talks; nor are RSNs owned and/or run by teams themselves, such as YES (Yankees), MASN (Orioles), NESN (Red Sox) and a few others.

From a user standpoint, viewers would log into their MLB.TV account, authenticate their pay-TV service’s credentials while doing so, and if successful, be released from their local blackout.  It’s not clear from Brown’s article whether users would need to authenticate pay-TV credentials when logging into MLB.TV upfront, or separately when trying to specifically access their Fox local market game, but if MLB follows the path of making the most sense it would definitely be the latter, since that would mean a cord cutter wouldn’t be able to use MLB.TV at all, for lack of upfront pay-TV credentials.

Speaking of whom: assuming this last point is true, cord cutters are still losers under this arrangement, since they would have no pay-TV log in credentials to use to bypass their local blackout.  Well, at least technically that’s true, as it is well understood that many people with login credentials for Netflix, Hulu and other pay services freely and gladly share those credentials with friends and family who have no such credentials.  But if you had to pick one and only one company who could figure out a way to undermine that kind of sharing, though, wouldn’t MLBAM have to be your first, if not only, guess, since their business model promotes restricting access as much as possible?  They would be mine, anyway.

However, when you think about it, it becomes clear that neither MLB nor their partner broadcasters care much for cord cutters anyway, for obvious reasons.  For one thing, they’re not pay TV customers, and furthermore probably won’t become customers anytime soon, and the relationship between the broadcasters and MLB is strong enough that MLB wouldn’t risk offending their broadcaster partners by trying to do some kind of end-around to get cord cutters on board the blackout removal train.  For another thing, cord cutters are a very small percentage of total households, less than 11% in total, so in terms of scale of effort versus return on investment, it just wouldn’t be worth MLB’s time.

Also losing in this arrangement, as it stands today, would be MLB.TV customers in the very largest DMAs (i.e., TV markets) in the country, as well as the ancillary DMAs that belong within their MLB territories.  Of the top ten DMAs, eight of them do not have Fox among their local RSNs: New York; Los Angeles (outside of Orange County); Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco-Oakland; Boston; Washington DC; and Houston.  These eight DMAs make up 25% of all the TV households in the country, and when you add the secondary markets within their teams’ territories into the mix, it probably adds another five to ten points to that number (source: author’s SWAG).

Nevertheless, this does seem to be a decent first step towards solving the MLB blackout conundrum that has vexed not only the actual business of Major League Baseball, but also the public’s perception of Major League Baseball as a business, which has not been held in the highest of esteem for some time.  Little by each, however—we’ll accept and applaud these first steps as the Big Baby takes them.

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.