Baseball Is Back! Too Bad I Still Can't Watch My Local Team On My MLB.TV Subscription…

from the root,-root-root-for-someone-out-of-market dept

Can you smell it yet? The freshly cut grass, the muffled sound of thousands of fans, the wonderous gasps of young people? Baseball is back. I’m generally an avid fan of professional sports and, as I’ve written about before, a strong promoter of the idea that the pro sports leagues I love so much could benefit greatly from a wider, more open embrace for streaming their games online. Particularly for leagues on the lower end of the popularity and revenue spectrums, I would think that building a wider audience through internet streaming would be a boon to otherwise mediocre broadcasting partnerships. The NHL in particular is known to have absolutely brutal broadcast contracts that aren’t supporting teams as well as they could if the league were to attempt to multiply their viewership through streaming.

But with Major League Baseball, it’s a whole different animal. Teams in Major League Baseball are insanely profitable, in largest part because of the broadcasting revenue. With that in mind, it might seem silly to suggest that MLB should be looking at ways to free up their streaming product. But that’s wrong and here’s why.

First, let’s start with a little background and some compliments. Nobody in pro sports leagues does streaming as well as MLB in terms of quality and quantity. For $130/year, you get almost all the games for the entire season in full HD, with options for the radio or television broadcasts offered by either of the teams playing. The stream is reliable and of good quality, with a pop-out media player that’s simple. For the games they stream, it works beautifully.

You’ve probably already guessed the problem, haven’t you? It’s region locked, with the arbitrary borders of a team’s fan-base blacked out from their team’s streams, both for home games and away games. The idea, of course, is that MLB doesn’t want to offend their local broadcast partners by offering their broadcast over streaming as a charged service. Their thought is essentially that the broadcast is TV’s product and local advertising is what pays the television stations, who in turn pay MLB for the rights to the games. Let’s turn this on its head, though, and see the insane kind of money MLB could make if they stopped seeing themselves as only being in the baseball business and also offered up their established streaming infrastructure to their broadcasting partners.

MLB, today, could go to TV stations, cable or otherwise, and offer up their robust streaming platform. MLB would make its money charging more for broadcast rights under that kind of agreement. TV stations in turn could claim a higher viewership than they have today through TV only, allowing them to generate increased revenue in advertising sales and rates. Keep in mind that MLB.TV is using those station broadcasts anyway (for instance, the MLB.TV Chicago Cubs stream is just the WGN/CSN broadcast streamed over MLB.COM). Between internet streaming and mobile devices, viewership numbers would skyrocket. I say this because of how often we’re told about the horrific danger of all the sports streaming sites already out there offering the exact thing MLB.TV could be getting paid for. In other words, anyone with an internet connection can already do all this, while MLB.TV could offer the same thing as part of their package with infrastructure they already have in place.

In summary, baseball could today, without having to invest in any infrastructure, work with broadcast partners to free up streaming to local fans who can already get those streams through illegitimate services. It would benefit the league, the broadcast partners, the advertisers, and the fans. There is literally no loser in this equation. All it would take is some forward-thinking folks in the league and TV to get over their protectionist traditions and make it happen.

In the meantime, my MLB.TV subscription means I can’t watch my team play for no logical reason.

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Comments on “Baseball Is Back! Too Bad I Still Can't Watch My Local Team On My MLB.TV Subscription…”

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Mark Gisleson (profile) says:


I couldn’t watch my team over the internet (legally) when I lived in Minnesota, and now that I’m in Wisconsin I find myself in a no cable address with a worse than nothing Frontier phone system that doesn’t support DSL. Literally my only broadband solution was to pay Verizon $120 a month for 30GB of insanely fast and incredibly expensive broadband.

I can watch my team on NBA League Pass now (TNT and ESPN games excepted) but I can’t afford the broadband (those game streams suck up a lot of bandwidth.

We are the most corrupt country on earth, Russia included. Worse, we don’t even know the only standing that count, namely which billionaire has/is the biggest dick.

zip says:

"insanely profitable"

Insane profits resulting from both the fans and the taxpayers routinely getting royally screwed-over by professional sports leagues …

… as in the all-too-familiar case of a city building a team a new stadium for free, then having residents blacked-out of broadcast games that were always available before the team came to town … and then finally having the team leave town and the city stuck with an expensive stadium that’s useless because any new team they might attract in the future will demand a new stadium built-to-order.

At least professional baseball has had a long history of operating without huge taxpayer-borne subsidies and givaways that have become endemic in the modern age of professional sports.

As for internet streaming of games, I’d like to know how sports teams plan on enforcing black-out zones over the internet, when proxies and VPNs are so widespread.

N.Olsen (profile) says:

Re: "insanely profitable"

They use the zip code attached to your credit card.

If someone has a convenient work-around for this, I’d love to know about it… MLS Live is just as bad, and also fragmented across all streaming platforms.

Google TV can watch it in the browser using the flash plugin (only available on bastard version of Chrome stuck in GTV)

Roku has a killer streaming app, but it has strange rules regarding the availability of live streams following the performance.

Basically, there’s no “good” way to stream all the games…yet I continue to pay extra during Soccer season just so I can get NBCSN/ESPN for the national games.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: "insanely profitable"

professional baseball has had a long history of operating without huge taxpayer-borne subsidies and givaways

Is your planet accepting new applicants? Because it sure sounds different from mine, where the cities routinely pony up new stadia and other goodies for baseball teams which might otherwise move. Indeed, they may move anyway. St Pete’s team is already planning to vacate the expensive domed facility, and Miami’s uses the threat of departure to weasel more tax funded goodies.

And, lest we forget, the spring training stadium in Tampa.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a hard time understanding that you’re complaining about a method that has been going on for so long. This regional broadcasting and black out of games didn’t start yesterday, nor last year, not even last decade.

However it is suddenly fodder for an article which is essentially a bitch session about how you aren’t getting your moneys worth.

I ran into this a long time ago and just finally lost total interest in pro football for the same reason. Why pay for what you aren’t getting? Better, why pay at all for inadequate service? There is such a thing as dropping it, which is what I eventually did through disgust. You wanna change this? Convince your fellow fans how much of a rip off it is and stop watching for a season. Want to bet if 1/3 of the US dropped a sport for a year there wouldn’t be major changes to bring the fans back?

I haven’t seen a football game in better than 8 or 9 years. I have no intention of ever returning to watch them. I’ve lost all interest and all connection. But you know what? I’m not paying a bill over poor service either.

Put your money where your mouth is and change it or live with what you got.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I have a hard time understanding that you’re complaining about a method that has been going on for so long”

So, if something stupid and unworkable has existed for a long time you should just accept it? How long should a monopoly be giving you a substandard service before you just lie back and take it?

“However it is suddenly fodder for an article which is essentially a bitch session about how you aren’t getting your moneys worth.”

I love it when people come to an opinion blog to bitch about how the writer isn’t writing what they want them to write. You’re not interested in this subject, but you were driven to write 5 paragraphs about it anyway? Your whining about the author on a free site you visit is more noteworthy than a paying customer saying why he’s not getting value from a substandard service? Really?

“Want to bet if 1/3 of the US dropped a sport for a year there wouldn’t be major changes to bring the fans back?”

What’s the betting that they’d just blame “piracy” and not address the real issue?

Simply not paying for something isn’t enough. You have to make them understand why. Articles like this help get that message across to some degree, and might actually help spur some people into thinking more closely about what they’re paying for. I’d be willing to bet that articles like this achieve more than Tim trying to convince a couple of random friends offline to stop watching their favourite sport.

“I haven’t seen a football game in better than 8 or 9 years. I have no intention of ever returning to watch them.”

…and what changes have your mere refusal to watch games caused the NFL to make to the way they broadcast games? If the answer is “nothing”, that’s kind of the point.

anon says:

Re: Re:

It is sad that the best sports in the world are all now locked down and only really viewed by the rich or those that have $130 a month to throw away on cable and satellite and then to have to still pay to get the specific games they want.

Why is it allowed to happen where only the rich can afford sports on tv and the internet.

I say that the websites broadcasting for the poor should be allowed to, and nobody should be allowed to stop them.

Sport is supposed to be about the game, not how much money can be diverted into some millionaires offshore account.

Boycott all games until they are freely available to everyone, not just the well off and rich.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You have a fair point in here, but you’re wrong, and it’s my fault you’re wrong.

“Why pay for what you aren’t getting? Better, why pay at all for inadequate service?”

This is NOT the problem. I can see I didn’t make this clear in the article, but I LOVE my MLB.TV subscription. While I desperately want to be able to watch my Cubs, I will watch baseball anytime, anywhere, between any two teams, and my subscription lets me do that as long as one of the two Chicago teams or the Milwaukee team is involved.

Sorry that wasn’t clear, but I definitely get my money’s worth with the MLB subscription, I just think they could do better business freeing up the local product.

jfortune says:

Re: Re:

I know that’s how it’s technically supposed to work but have you tried it yourself? Myself and two of my friends live in Toronto and since last season have been able to watch all Blue Jays games (without any other service). Yesterday I watched the season opener on my iPad while at work, on wifi and on 4G, during my trek home.

BW says:

Re: Canada

I’m in Canada, just outside Toronto in Hamilton actually, and none of the Blue Jays games are blacked out for me. I’m switching between the game on cable and the same Jays game on my PS3 right now.

I get the home or away broadcast for all Jays games (all games for all teams I’ve tried this year actually) on PS3 / Android / iPad / Windows without having to do anything special. My IP shows as Hamilton, my credit card is Hamilton, so frankly I don’t know why they aren’t in blacked out for me, but they weren’t last year either.

Jonathan Lee (profile) says:

Antitrust Suit on this Issue

Hey, Timothy. Good article. You are correct that MLB Advanced Services does a nice job with their streaming product. This is probably a big reason why WWE Network decided to partner with MLB when introducing its own online channel.

You didn’t mention it, but the exact thing you complain about–the in region blackout, is the subject of a consumer class action antitrust complaint against MLB, NHL, Comcast, DirecTV and their RSNs. You can read this opinion in Garber v. MLB, denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss–but also dismissing some plaintiffs–to see if you qualify as a class member.

The FCC is also considering getting rid of its sports blackout rules–where it incorrectly applied the Sports Broadcasting Act antitrust exemption to cable broadcasts. I’ve written about it here.

GMacGuffin (profile) says:

1st World Gripes ...

Yeah, they are. But legitimate gripes. I bought 24″ TVs for the back room computer monitors, so they can double as crappy standard definition TVs for Padres games when I’m not in the front room with the big HD screen. I can go to any of my computers — or to a local coffee house and support my local business, or anywhere — and watch the Dodgers, Cubs, Nats, Tigers in lovely HD on my phone, notebook, or tablet. But my own Padres? Gotta park myself on the couch or be relegated to radio or crappy picture in the back studio.

Granted, I could pay $200+ for a Slingbox, but I already paid $130 for, on top of my outrageous cable bill.

(Not to mention, when you’re at a game, biological imperatives always seem to kick in right before that big play happens. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to immediately view what you missed while you’re there?)

jakerome (profile) says:

The put down of the current business model for baseball is way too pat. The Dodgers will reap something like $425 million/ year (!!!) for their current local TV deal. They are able to do so because they are collecting probably $3-4/month from nearly every cable subscriber in Greater Los Angeles (at least, that’s the plan).

Compare that to $10/month from only the most ardent fans. Making the $10 package freely available would mitigate the incentive the strongest fans have to pay upwards of $100/month to cable companies just to watch the Dodgers. Without those hopeless fans getting cable just to watch the Dodgers, I reckon the amount cable companies would be willing to pay would drop more than 50%.

Exclusives have always come at a premium in entertainment, and baseball is no different. The policies suck for fans and may harm the sport in the long run as fans lose interest, but in the short-to-medium term there is no rational way the Dodgers would earn $425 million/ year for local TV rights if the new Dodgers cable channel did not have an exclusive. Back of the math reveals that pretty quick, with probably about 10 million households, the Dodgers/ MLB would need to collect $42 from each household. Since the package runs about $130/year, they would need fully 1/3 of all households to sign up for the MLB streaming package. That’s simply not going to happen.

ericcl (profile) says:

Why I don't have

I live in Oklahoma and I am blacked out of 4 teams. Texas, Houston, Kansas City, and wait for it, St. Louis. My home, as the crow flies, is 510 miles from St. Louis and 440 from Houston. I can’t pick up KMOX or KBME, much less the TV signals. How am I supposed to watch or listen to the game? I certainly can’t travel there. Oddly enough, I’m not blocked out of the Colorado Rockies, who are “only” 450 miles away.

Another reason Bud Selig can kiss my arse.

baseball viewer from outside the US says:

> “Nobody in pro sports leagues does streaming as well as MLB in terms of quality and quantity.”

Euh, not really. More than half the time of a match you’re staring at a static image, because ads are shown on regional tv. And that static image also appears when you watch a freaking rerun of the game.
Sure, there are a lot of games that you can view, but it’s boring to watch and in my eyes not worth the $130 per year.

But that’s the case with most televised American sports. But at least NFL offers their streams for free to outside-the-US viewers.

Kris says:

Crazy — last year, with the package, I COULD watch Indians play but I had to watch it from the opposition’s broadcast. So, after having spent over $100 for the package this year, I now cannot watch the Indians games. Last year I did and I still live in the same address I did last year. I’m not sure what changed from then to now, broadcast wise … but, next year I’ll purchase XM so I can listen to the games I want as well as all the other stations.

Ohohohopp says:

Listen, they don’t use you’re credit card for you’re location. LoL. They use your IP Address, I don’t know why people keep saying it’s their credit card location, sounds kinda stupid.
Use a VPN to watch whatever games you want, and yes you have to purchase to watch the games, no freebies(if I don’t say this someone will undoubtably ask it) if you use vpn you can watch blackout games live ok?

Steel_Wind says:


It’s because they use BOTH your IP AND your credit card zip code to determine your home viewing area.

If you live in the USA, If either of your IP or your credit card zip ties you to a regional broadcaster, the game is blacked out for you. For exmaple, if your ZIP code put you in the Los Angeles area, it does not matter where your IP originates from – you are not watching Angels or Dodgers games on MLB.TV. If your IP puts you on Chicago, you aren’t watching the White Sox or the Cubs, either.

There is no zip code attached to most Paypal accounts. That would a wise work-around used in the past, though I have no idea if it still works this season.

James says:

Re: Re:

They use IP address to determine blackout restrictions and not billing zip code for your credit card. How do I know this because recently I traveled to Boise, ID and was blacked out of watching Seattle Mariners games but could watch the Kansas City Royals who are located in blackout area for my home billing zip code in Kansas City. When in Kansas City on my home IP address I can’t get the Royals games as their blacked out but I do get those Mariners games. However, I have read that MLB will use the billing zip code for certain users believed to have been attempting to use proxy servers to circumvent the blackout restrictions so VPN and proxy server users beware.

... says:

It’s just Greed Machine doing what it has always done: Exploit any and everything for a profit.

As for the backouts, used to be they blacked out games to force fans to attend so they could rake in the revenue from ticket sales and concessions. They didn’t want to spend the money using the stadium without a return on that investment. Also, ticket sales were the primary platform upon which they paid their insanely over-paid players and staffs.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Many Years Ago, And Perhaps Under Different Management

There was a team in a mid-grade city which had horrible attendance. They would draw ~7000 people a night. This probably failed to please the owner.

The owner also had a UHF TV station, no major network affiliation. He had hours of time to fill, and I suppose he really could not just run info-mercials all the time.

I suppose it was a fortunate match. He decided to make sure that every home game was on TV. With home-team announcers. If you sat at home, watching his station, you’d watch the local game and hear the local announcers telling how great it was to be at the park.

It affected attendance. It also affected the value of the TV station. Mr. Turner became very, very wealthy.

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