MLB Gets A Patent On Making It More Difficult To Watch Your Favorite Baseball Team Online

from the but-why? dept

One of the most annoying things about Major League Baseball's online viewing options is the ridiculous "blackout" areas. Basically, you can watch any team you want... as long as they're not our local team. Seriously. The misguided fear was that the local TV stations would lose out on revenue because people would be watching online instead of on TV. This is similar to the incredibly wrong theories when TV first became popular that local TV shouldn't be allowed to show local games if the stadiums weren't sold out. Rather than recognizing that giving fans more tools to watch games however they want, they seem to think that fans can be forced to watch in the method MLB wants. However, now MLB.com has taken it even further. It's patented its method for determining who to block out.

You can check out the full patent yourself to see if you can figure out how this was granted. If you asked any half-way competent programmer how to set up such a system, they could all come up with something identical to this. How is this possibly not obvious? Determining where an internet user is geographically has been around for ages. Limiting access by subscription levels has been around forever. Combining the two hardly seems new and innovative. This seems like it should fail based on general obviousness, as well as the new tests under the KSR ruling (on obviousness) and the Bilski ruling (on pure software patents). About the only "good" that comes of this is that perhaps it means other sports leagues won't use such an anti-fan policy.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Ima Fish, May 19th, 2009 @ 6:55am

    "local TV shouldn't be allowed to show local games if the stadiums weren't sold out"

    Imagine if musicians followed the same logic.
    "We refuse to let our songs be played on local radio stations if our concerts don't sell out. That'll teach ya!"

     

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  2.  
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    David T, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:13am

    The fence works both ways...

    In their effort to build walls keeping paying fans "inside," they make it that much more difficult to get involved. I moved to Boston and it's a huge sports town. I've never followed baseball, but everyone talks about the Redsox so I thought I would try to see what its all about.

    For someone who doesn't have cable (I have FiOS), terrestrial radio (they block online radio), or hang out at sports bars, trying to get involved is tough. Whoever is in charge seems to do everything they can to keep me from learning about the game. I decided it's just not the worth the energy to become a fan of the sport.

     

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  3.  
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    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:14am

    You should be glad they got a patent

    1) Why are you annoyed that they got a patent. That they have a patent means no one else can do something as "misguided" without the express written consent of Major League Baseball. Isn't that something you are in favor of?

    2) If, after considering that, the patent still annoys you, and if it claims something as obvious as you say, put together a packet of documents proving that the components ideas were around before the application was filed and articulate why it would be obvious to combine them in this misguided manner. That will invalidate the patent.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:26am

    3) The Bilski case has nothing to do with Software. The ruling is based on the assertion that the steps of the method of Bilski could be done with pencil and paper. 4) The patent in questions claims Systems (i.e., machines) and is therefore, not covered by any ruling in Bilski. http://www.google.com/patents?id=jeSzAAAAEBAJ&dq=7,486,943

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Rod, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Patented a Tool for Reducing Sales

    I tried the online viewing but immediately cancelled it when it became obvious that I wouldn't be able to watch my local team. Not sure how this patent helps them. It seems to ensure that others have to license the technology to make the same dumb business moves.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Poster, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Re:

    And now you've given the RIAA another bright idea.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    LVCapo, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:53am

    Selig is a tool

    When i hear people complain about blackouts, I chuckle to myself. Baseball used to be our national sport....kids loved the game, families went to games.....you could always watch games on TV.

    Now, if you are lucky you might get one game a week, and its usually the Yankees or Red Sox, its way too expensive to go to the games for most families, and the idiot Selig thinks he is improving the game.

    Living in Vegas, where we have no MLB team, and by no team i mean no team within 4 1/2 hours of us......every west coast team except Seattle is blacked out (Oakland, San Francisco, LA Angels, LA Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks).......tell me thats not the most ridiculous setup in the world? WTF are Oakland and San Francisco blacked out for? 11 hours away!!!!!

    This is almost as bad as the DirecTV monopoly on NFL games.

     

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  8.  
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    George Steinbrenner, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:55am

    Y'know, this is precisely the type of service I might be interested in spending money on, IF I could watch the local team (only the most popular franchise MLB has). Alas, I can't, because they're the local team, and you can't watch the local team. The whole argument about local TV losing out is ridiculous, as the broadcast rights to the majority of their games are owned by a network owned by the team, which isn't available on my satellite system.

    Of course, when this whole thing fails (because let's face it, only fans who don't live in their team's cities would ever consider paying for it), MLB will just complain about people "pirating" their broadcasts by retransmitting them from their homes via something like Orb or Slingbox, despite the fact that these viewers are actually paying for the broadcast in the first place.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:59am

    Re: The fence works both ways...

    if you have FioS, you can see the Sox. It's available on FioS.

    Really, who doesn't own a radio? Games are also on satellite radio.

    All the sports bars I know of have Red Sox games on. They wouldn't be SPORTS bars if they didn't show the home teams. Most local watering holes have the Sox, Celtics, Pats, Bruins and college sports on their screens.

    You must be some eccentric Yankee fan or just another hairy-palmed another internet troll.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:00am

    Re: You should be glad they got a patent

    Les, I don't like the patent because it's bad for our overall system of government and the economy.

    MLB probably sought the patent defensively. If some other company patents this process, then MLB is open to a lawsuit. That's ridiculous. And collecting the data to invalidate a patent isn't as easy as saying it's obvious either. Even if it is obvious.

    But not only is that a bad idea, the idea of blocking people hurts MLB. In other words, in a few years we might hear talks of how baseball isn't doing so well financially. There may be an attempt to cajole taxpayers into making up the difference.

    A good example may be the recent banking problems. Bad business model leads to business failure. Bailout money from taxpayers. Large bonuses to executives.

    I don't know if that will happen. In fact, I have no idea how well MLB is doing financially. I do know that taxpayers already cover a lot of the expenses for these teams. And instead of a bit of goodwill, we see an attempt to lock out their fans.

     

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  11.  
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    Tgeigs, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:02am

    For further proof that this approach doesn't work...

    Note that "Dollar" Bill Wirtz blacked out all home games for the Chicago Blackhawks on TV, claiming that putting the games on TV was an "insult to season ticket holders". Subsequently, attendance dropped dramatically, the team suffered because of the loss of revenue, and Chicago lost it's status as a "hockey town".

    Last year Dollar Bill died and his son Rocky took over. The first thing he did was put the Hawks on TV. The fan response was immediate, leading to them selling out every game in the tail end of last year and EVERY home game this year.

    Thank you Rocky and fuck you, Bill.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    John, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:20am

    Re: Selig is a tool

    It's not the most ridiculous setup in the world. I live in Japan, where every single game of every single team is blacked out. Why the fuck is that?

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:22am

    I hate the blackout rule. I refuse to pay for Cable and my apartments won't allow dishes(no good place to mount them), so most of my TV I download if its not on Hulu.

    I was really excited when I found out MLB was going to broadcast all the games online, in HD and was almost going to sign up for the season package until I realized I couldn't watch any Seattle games, Thanks MLB!

    I could always go to a Bar, but then the money I spend on beer and wings it would be chearper to get cable :)

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    Question: would using a proxy server with an IP from a different region get around this problem? (you could then watch your home team but not the team near the proxy)

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    Yeah, but if you get caught Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens come to your house on behalf of MLB and 'roid rage on your ass in a way that you can't imagine.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:56am

    Coward - How is granting MLB Advanced Media, L.P. the right to prevent others from making, using, importing or selling : A system for verifying access to a network based on geographic location of a subscriber of a service provided over a computer network, the system comprising: a service computer providing a subscription service to a subscriber computer via a network, wherein the subscriber computer is physically located in a geographic location, and further wherein the subscription service is limited based on the geographic location of the subscriber computer; and an event interface coupled to the service computer, wherein the event interface receives event information for a rules based event either as the rules based event is occurring or as the rules based event is requested, as applicable, wherein the subscription service includes communicating event information to the subscriber computer, wherein the service computer verifies access by the subscriber computer to the subscription service based on the geographic location of the subscriber computer, wherein the geographic location of the subscriber computer is estimated using a first estimation process and, if the first estimation process produces a first estimate having a first confidence level below a first determined threshold, using a second estimation process to produce a second estimate having a second confidence level such that the second confidence level can be compared to a second determined threshold. bad for our overall system of government and the economy?

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:57am

    I used to watch baseball sometimes and even go to games. Not looking likely that I will ever be interested again.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 9:03am

    Lessons from Pro Boxing

    Perhaps MLB should take a lesson from professional boxing. When I was a kid I was a big boxing fan, which is hindsight was largely due to the fact that I could watch the matches on network TV. I learned the boxers personalties and had favorites that I followed. When boxing started going pay-per-view, it was first too expensive, and then too much hassle, to watch matches. Now I couldn't tell you who the heavyweight champ is, nor do I really care.

    A sport builds lifetime fans from kids who get exposed to it. Boxing has lost a generation of fans by making it too hard to watch the events. MLB, are you listening?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Guy One, May 19th, 2009 @ 9:19am

    Re:

    Talk about a run-on sentence

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 9:31am

    Hulu, MTV do this already

    As someone who lives in the UK i can't use Hulu, and film trailers on MTV are often denied to me because apparently I live in an area that has a big fat denied flag on it

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    The infamous Joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    Yes, proxy would probably work, though I don't know how well it would work. Streaming HD video through a proxy seems like a mess to me.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Who cares?

    I stopped watching for a while after the first strike, but I came back. I stopped again for a while after the second strike, but I eventually started watching a little bit. Then the Larry Bonds thing hit. It seems like MLB's whole point in drug testing is to make sure that no one got caught.

    So, who cares about baseball? In fact I watch a lot less sports than I used to. I didn't watch a single Olympic event because I figure that it is now about who can do the best job of taking performance enhancing drugs without getting caught.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 10:42am

    Re: Re:

    One of the quirks of patent law is that each claim must be presented in a continuous form...which results, of course, in claims that give meaning to the phrase "run-on sentences".

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Jason, May 19th, 2009 @ 10:45am

    Re: The fence works both ways...

    I heartily recommend little league - also a great cheap date. Fix a picnic meal, roll up a blanket, grab your best gal, and spend an afternoon enjoying what the sport is really about.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, May 19th, 2009 @ 10:52am

    Re: Re: The fence works both ways...

    I don't know about little league, but there is an assload of independent league and minor league baseball all over the country. The stadiums tend to be AWESOME and the baseball is pretty good as well...

     

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  26.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Re:

    3) The Bilski case has nothing to do with Software

    If you believe that, you haven't been paying attention much.

    4) The patent in questions claims Systems (i.e., machines) and is therefore, not covered by any ruling in Bilski.

    Ha! That's what a bunch of lawyers said right after the ruling, but that's not what's happened in practice. Bilski doesn't mean that if you include some magic words sprinkled into the patent you're fine. "Systems" doesn't protect you from being rejected under Bilski.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Mike -

    From the the middle paragraph on page 14 of the PTO's -BRIEF FOR THE RESPONDENT IN OPPOSITION-- Re: the petition for Cert in Bilski:

    "In any event, the court of appeals emphasized that its decision in this case (Bilski) does not address the application of the machine-or-transfromation test to computer software, data-manipulation techniques, or other such technologies not involved in the petitioners' risk-hedging claim."

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Derek Kerton, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: The fence works both ways...

    Check your reading comprehension.

    He said that it is hard for someone who DOES NOT have cable, or DOES NOT want to hang out at sports bars to get into the game. He didn't say the game wasn't onscreen at sports bars.

    Also, the Sox being available on FiOS, is very different form being available as part of the basic TV package. This is a guy wanting to learn more about the Sox, not someone who wants to buy an expensive FiOS add-in MLB package.

    He's no troll. He's representative of a big part of the market: people who would tune in to the Sox if it were easy or cheap, but will not hang out in bars or fork out big subscriptions for a brand to which they are not yet loyal fans.

    The bigger point is, how does MLB make new fans or more fans if their modus operandi is to block access to their brand, and to tell your market how/where/when they MUST consume the product.

     

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  29.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 12:16pm

    Re:

    Heh. So you trust Gene, someone who's posts have a history of incredible bias... without any backup or support whatsoever, over actual evidence of the USPTO rejecting patents based on Bilski?

    http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2009/03/patentable-subject-matter-redux-bilski-2009.html

    Details... details...

    Anyone who thinks it's easier to get software patents than in the past, and that this is "good news" is not someone worth paying attention to.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Derek Kerton, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:21pm

    Re:

    Maybe sometimes, if you're good at covering your tracks.

    Actually, that's the guts of the patent in question. The patent is around a system for using TWO methods of determining location. If the first one returns a weak confidence level of the location of the viewer (ie, it looks like you're using a proxy, or something is fishy), then they will use a second method (like a verification phone call from a fixed phone, a mobile phone LBS signal, etc.)

    The patent is actually on the "more than one method" notion.

    Lame patent. Lame business idea. Give people less, charge more. Get your stadium funded by taxpayers. The MLB.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    Mike -

    So, I guess you're just going to ignore my earlier post:


    From the the middle paragraph on page 14 of the PTO's -BRIEF FOR THE RESPONDENT IN OPPOSITION-- Re: the petition for Cert in Bilski:

    "In any event, the court of appeals emphasized that its decision in this case (Bilski) does not address the application of the machine-or-transfromation test to computer software, data-manipulation techniques, or other such technologies not involved in the petitioners' risk-hedging claim."

    details, details.........

     

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  32.  
    icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Les

    Locking obvious ideas down so only one entity can use them is bad for our economy. It reduces the field of ideas other entities can use to advance their businesses and services.

    That is generally true if the idea is obvious and also good. In this case, the idea appears bad. However, the patent is not about blocking viewers, but is around using two methods to determine location with a certain confidence level.

    What if Yahoo wants to offer local news headlines to viewers of their portal? If they use two methods to locate the user, MLB could demand a license fee. Ridiculous.

    Les, locking up ideas is bad for the economy, and good for the monopoly holder. If this results in more inventions, then overall society may benefit. But locking up dumb-ass, obvious ideas like using 2 location techniques instead of one offers no invention benefit, but has monopoly costs. Net loss.

     

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  33.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 12:43pm

    Re:

    So, I guess you're just going to ignore my earlier post:

    First, off, I don't have to respond to every comment. We get nearly 1,000 comments per day here. So I pick and choose. And that comment seemed irrelevant and is taken way way out of context. Anyway, you can rely on that all you want, but if the USPTO is actually rejecting claims based on Bilski, it suggests that the folks there have actually read the decision and understand the context.

    Details... details...

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    YouAreWrong, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:30pm

    Mike's Opinion of Bilski vs Software

    I normally blast Mike for being retarded, but he's right about Bilski knocking out most software patents. Look at Cybersource if you need any more proof, and this is from Judge Patel, who Mike regularly rails against (she's the one hearing the Real v MPAA case): http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/digest/files/Cybersource%20Corp%20v.%20Retail%20Decisions%20Inc.pdf

    T hat's the first and only big district court case since Bilski where 101 was pled (if you practiced, you'd know that 103 is still being argued a LOT more). Also, the cert brief misrepresents Bilski's actual quote: "although invited to do so by several amici, we decline to adopt a broad exclusion over software." The CAFC said they're not making a de facto rule that all software is ineligible -- that would go against Diehr. Bilski follows Diehr to the T -- patents must have a particular machine or transformation to be eligible, and some software may satisfy that.

    Subsequently, the near 2 dozen BPAI cases since have all said that a general purpose computer do not constitute a particular machine. Cybersource specifically said that Beauregard claims do NOT magically obtain eligibility. Further, clients/servers/clouds/keyboards/data collectors/ip address/NICs/displays are generally insufficient to confer eligibility.

    Regardless, MS, IBM, and Intel all have way too much invested in this. And if you didn't know, multiple practitioners have been writing bullshit software claims (stuff that no one would ever use) in a race to get them up to the Supreme Court so they can be the principle party in the litigating the issue that will shape our next 100+ years of patent law -- whether a general purpose computer constitutes a particular machine.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    angry dude, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    they are both retarded - Mikey and Bilski

    and the CAFC too

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    les, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:42pm

    Derek -
    Yahoo would be free to ask the user where he/she is. MLB is addressing the case where the user has a motive to lie. Its a very limited case.

    If MLB's method is as obvious as you say, why did the examiner allow it?

     

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  37.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Re:

    If MLB's method is as obvious as you say, why did the examiner allow it?

    Heh, this is the USPTO we're talking about... they allow tons of obvious things through. Because if they reject it, it's more work for them. Also, the standard for obviousness has been woefully inadequate for ages (even post KSR). It's way too reliant on prior art, and not at all reliant on PHOSITA.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Derek Kerton, May 20th, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Re:

    "If MLB's method is as obvious as you say, why did the examiner allow it?"

    But that's one of our core complaints. The USPTO allows way too much obvious crap through, making a patent thicket that makes it harder for companies to innovate (Yahoo in the example). Yahoo has big lawyers, so they might persevere, but two guys in the garage might not.

    Also, the examiner allowed it because the system is flawed, and biased in favor of more patents. The USPTO makes its revenue from issuing patents. They encourage patent applications. They measure their success by number of patents issued. Should we be surprised they err on the side of issuing the patent?

    Your question is tautological. You are saying "It's worthy of being a patent, because it was made a patent." This is like the frequent arguments we've seen in Techdirt comments that say: "The patent laws are good and right, because they are the law." People make the laws. We are the people. We can make them better.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    les, May 20th, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    So what your saying is

    So what your saying is, the USPTO is too dim to understand what is and isn't obvious, but is omniscient when it comes to the understanding and application of Bilski. Is that it?

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Overcast, May 23rd, 2009 @ 8:10pm

    Keep it then, I'll watch my local minor league team - cheaper anyway. And I can watch online for free.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    iBelieve, Sep 16th, 2011 @ 4:20pm

    MLB.something

    According to the local cable company in my area, they refused to pay MLB.something $80,000.00 for the MLB Extra channels even though tons of us are willing to pay $200.00 or more per season per box so we could watch something other than the badly run major league team here. Not mentioning names here, but MLB.something, its my opinion that you suck.

     

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  42.  
    icon
    iBelieve (profile), Sep 16th, 2011 @ 5:15pm

    Re:

    You could take that a few steps further. The greed is destroying the greatest game on the planet ever. A fan should be able to watch his or her favorite team without all the bullshit(.) My cable company could not or would not pay $80,000.00 this past year for the MLB Extra channels and so we who are not local fans have to watch another team play all the time and that sucks. It is not always possible for people to travel to the stadiums to watch their teams and for this bunch to be making it so hard to watch teams of choice just SUCKS. SCHMUCKS

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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