MLB eyes increased broadcast of games, with a twist

When many baseball fans hear “streaming,” they think of how it works in Major League Baseball now. There’s MLB.tv, along with new entrants to the digital broadcast space, Apple TV+ and Peacock. From the associated fees to watch games to the seemingly ubiquitous power outages, the current game streaming model isn’t generally popular with baseball fans.

Recently, at an owners meeting, commissioner Rob Manfred hinted that MLB was heading down a path to increase streaming, but in a different way. The idea would be to allow fans to select the games they want to stream and buy the viewing rights to those games as they see fit, eliminating blackouts. In an article by Athleticism by Evan Drellich, Manfred said this:

“We think we have fans who want to watch baseball and don’t think they have an adequate opportunity to do so. There is a strong feeling among owners that a company we call “MLB Media” should enter the digital space specifically to provide fans with more and more flexible opportunities to watch games.

“It’s about giving fans who may be outside of the traditional wiring harness a proper opportunity to see our games.”

Why are there power outages in the first place? Regional sports networks (RSN), such as SNY, buy the rights to broadcast games in their local markets and do not want competition from a streaming service. This applies not only to streaming and RSN broadcasting of the same game in a particular market, but also to streaming or broadcasting another game in a team’s local market (unless the subscriber has purchased MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings).

The question of access to games goes even further. MLB determines “local markets” for its teams, and sometimes those markets aren’t very local at all, but to protect RSNs, games can’t be shown there under current television agreements. From the cited article, here are some examples:

There is another group of fans that MLB calls “unserved”: those who cannot access television broadcasts at all. This is the group for which games are not only blocked on MLB.tv because they are technically “on the market”, but the team’s RSN is not carried by a local provider, such as a cable company. .

Iowa isn’t the only market swimming in blackouts. Las Vegas, too, has six blackout teams. None of the California teams — the Angels, Athletics, Dodgers, Giants or Padres — are viewable on MLB.tv, and the Diamondbacks are also unreachable. Hawaii is in a similar boat, with all California teams also unavailable through MLB.tv.

Hence the problem. There are “unserved” fans (most fans in major metropolitan areas don’t have this problem) who want to watch baseball, but can’t. With the game’s popularity stagnant at best, having potential customers unable to access the product is not a winning strategy. Manfred and the owners try to find potential solutions.

A large-scale streaming strategy driven by MLB cannot be implemented until at least most of the current RSN contracts have expired. However, Manfred is confident it can work. From the referenced article:

“Unlike any other entity, we have access to all digital rights, and let’s not forget that we have the tech chops to deliver 2,430 games, considering we’ve been doing it since 2000.”

The way information content is consumed is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. The way we consume baseball content will also change. Maybe RSNs and streaming will learn to live together. Maybe baseball on RSNs will go away, and fans can select the teams whose games they want to stream each year and pay accordingly.

If baseball can expand its reach and fans can consume the content they want, that’s a good result. How MLB gets there will be closely scrutinized. Appealing to one subset of fans while alienating another shouldn’t be an option. MLB doesn’t have the best record when it comes to customer relations.

We are in the digital age. MLB has an opportunity to make streaming work for the game and grow its popularity. Hope they do well.

About Dorie Castro

Check Also

Paul Hastings’ Dayanim to lead Orrick’s new play practice (1)

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe enlists Benham Dayanim, partner of Paul Hastings, to create and lead …