Baby Steps

Well, it appears that MLB is prepared to do something about the blackout problem:

Major League Baseball is finally trying to white out its blackout problem – and the restrictions that prevent so many from watching games on television and over the Internet may be lifted as early as the 2009 season.

This article primarily discusses the MLB Extra Innings package blackouts for cable and satellite subscribers, but one would hope the new blackout rules would extend to MLB.tv as well. Unfortunately, ending all blackouts doesn’t appear to be on the table. The new policy would only go so far as to end the most ridiculous of blackouts for fans who live nowhere near a ballpark:

At the owners’ meetings in May, all 30 teams are expected to deliver reports outlining the territories in which they currently broadcast games or have concrete plans to in the future, according to an MLB source. Based on the information, MLB will redraw its territorial-rights map – the outdated gerrymandering that causes areas such as Las Vegas and Iowa to be blacked out from 40 percent of games on a full schedule – to better reflect the present broadcast landscape.

The catalyst behind MLB’s sudden action is president Bob DuPuy, who at last year’s meetings took a hard-line stance on the blackouts. Aware of the outrage among baseball fans and torrent of letters pouring into MLB offices over an issue with a fairly painless remedy, DuPuy told the owners they had to stake legitimate claims to their territories or risk losing them.

Some owners, another source said, were concerned about existing TV contracts and potential discord among advertisers who were promised certain territories covered. DuPuy understood the conflict and allowed them one year to work out any issues.

This is good news for, say, fans of the A’s/Dodgers/Giants/Padres/Angels/Diamondbacks in Las Vegas, who are currently blacked out from all those teams’ games. A’s and Giants fans near the Bay Area, Dodgers and Angels fans near in L.A., and all other fans relatively close to their favorite team will apparently still be left in the dark.

Still, I can’t help but think that something is a good thing, and may lead to more good things soon.

April 17, 2008 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

MLB.com Highlights All That’s Wrong with MLB.tv

From the MLB.com “news” desk:

Matt Smith is a 24-year-old A’s fan who lives in Norwich, England, and he is starting his fourth season as a member of the MLB.TV generation.

I’ll give you three guesses why they didn’t write this article about me, an A’s fan in Oakland.

There are too many reasons to subscribe, such as logging onto his computer this past week to watch the A’s split a pair with Boston in Japan.

Call me a crazy baseball fan, but I woke up at 3 am Tuesday and Wednesday mornings to watch those games in Japan. I was blacked out, of course. For games at 3 am. Being played in Japan.

When asked why he is such an avid MLB.TV fan — one of more than one million fans who have watched live games this way — Smith replied via e-mail:

Want to watch all 162 of your favorite team’s regular-season games? No problem

No problem! If you live in Norwich, England.

Want to risk a heart attack watching all of the outings by your fantasy team’s starters? Go right ahead. Don’t want to miss any of the big games and dramatic moments that make up an MLB season? Thanks to MLB.TV, you don’t have to.

“None of the above would be possible without MLB.TV and my experience as a baseball fan would be much poorer as a result.

You said it, Matt! Without MLB.tv, many of us baseball fans wouldn’t be able to do all those things you just said. In fact, we can’t, and our experiences as baseball fans are much poorer as a result. But we’re all thrilled that one of the 9 baseball fans in England is satisfied.

As usual, your fellow baseball fans, like Smith, make the best case for why it is in everyone’s interest to subscribe to MLB.TV.

If you live in England, which is aparently MLB’s target demographic.

And once again, there will be fans all over the world following their favorite club live on MLB.TV because they don’t live near the team, because they are traveling, because they are at school — more reasons all the time.

And if you do live near the team, well, you’d better get yourself out to every single game, or be sure to be at home in front of the TV (if you have have one with cable) and not at school or work or at the coffee shop or hanging out at a friend’s house who insists on watching a basketball game instead. Beyond that, move to England, and you’ll never miss a thing!

Try it out, and you are likely to share this sentiment of Matt Smith:

“I can’t imagine being without it.”

I can.

April 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm 4 comments

Media Coverage of MLB.tv Blackouts

MLB.tv blackouts have been written about and discussed on many blogs and websites, but Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Passan brought the issue to national attention with a series of articles in 2006. Here are some highlights:

A black(out) eye for baseball

What comes of this is a dichotomy: Baseball surely wants all of its fans to watch as many games as possible – for all of the negativity associated with the sport, it’s never been richer as a business – but seems to give more value to respecting its owners, whose pockets, remember, are lined by those fans.

When he saw MLB.com’s broadcasts were blacked out, Cho remembered that his local cable provider was giving a free preview to the Extra Innings package. He tried the A’s channel. Black screen. He tried it the next day. Same thing.

“I contacted the local cable company here,” Cho said. “They told me they have no say over what games they’re allowed to broadcast, and they just follow the rules.”

Rules that made sense a long time ago. And rules that need a rewrite, pronto.

Left in the dark

At issue are territorial rights, the policies that bequeath each team a certain geographical area to call its home market. Why they remain in place when technology allows the broadcast of all games and the ubiquity of information shatters the very idea of territories is mystifying. Baseball builds barriers where it needs none. [...]

At this juncture, it’s too easy to point out the problems because there are so many. It’s incumbent upon baseball to think of resolutions rather than sit on its hindquarters while dissatisfaction mounts.

“The frustration of these rules started helping me think of a solution,” wrote Nick Zack, a blackout-affected fan in Mesa, Ariz. “If MLB is collecting the money from these games, why not make them available to those in the blackout range, but kick back the revenue to the teams that are being watched? So if I was in Yuma, always watching Padres games on MLB.TV, San Diego would collect the revenue from that game. Then baseball can allow its fans to watch the games, and the local’ teams can still keep their revenue. Or is there something I am not understanding?”

No. It just makes too much sense.

Selig’s promise

Bud Selig admitted Tuesday that he has been restricted from watching some games this season – and that he intends to change the policy that leaves some cities without as many as six baseball games each night.

“I don’t understand (blackouts) myself,” Selig said at a luncheon with the Baseball Writers Association of America. “I get blacked out from some games.”

While he did not outline a plan, Selig said he had spoken with Major League Baseball about addressing the blackout issue.

“Right now,” he said, “I don’t know what to do about it. We’ll figure it out.” [...]

“I hear more about people who can’t get the game,” Selig said, “and, yes, I’ve already told our people we have to do something about it.”

It has been nearly 2 years since Passan published those articles, and absolutely nothing has changed. Time to get this back on Commissioner Selig’s front burner.

April 2, 2008 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

Unsatisfied Customers, Part I

A few comments from petition signers. First up, Brian:

I live in Oklahoma City which is 250 miles from Arlington, 350 miles to Kansas City, and 500 miles to St. Louis, and 680 miles to Denver. Why would Oklahoma be blacked out from viewing all four of those teams on MLB.TV? It is a minimum three hour drive to the closest game. I am not renewing my subscription this year because I cannot watch any of the games I want to see. If the black outs were lifted, especially for the Rangers, I would gladly shell out the money for the MLB.TV package.

Chris:

I live in Abilene, TX…only 165 miles from The Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington, I know this because I make this trip as often as possible. The problem I have, I can only watch about half the Rangers games on TV here because of my cable provider…so, to get around this…I purchased MLBTV..only to find I’m blacked-out of the Ranger games I’d like to watch. That’s ridiculous in my eyes…I want to support my team as often as possible, even to the point where I payed an extra $110 bucks to watch the other half of the games I couldn’t see on cable. Please do away with these EXTREME black-out rules and allow the game of baseball to continue to grow

Al:

Dear MLB, I am an A’s fan who used to live in Boston, and I was previously a very satisfied customer of MLB.TV, to which I subscribed for 3 years. Now that I’ve moved back to the Bay Area, I don’t subscribe anymore. Why should I? To watch Royals games? Yeah right. And don’t even get me started on watching big teams like the Red Sox and Yankees… they get enough exposure as is. You see, I am a busy man and only make time to watch my beloved A’s. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or means to attend every A’s game in person, and I refuse to subscribe to cable television. I am the kind of niche customer to which you should be marketing your online services. I would love nothing more than to pay 100 bucks a year so that I can watch the A’s live anywhere I go on my computer. As you see, I demand, you just have to supply.

March 30, 2008 at 3:49 am 2 comments

MLBlackout’s Thoughts on Proxies and Other Ways to “Beat the System”

For those who’ve been dismayed about MLB.tv’s blackouts, a common first response is to look for ways to beat the system and avoid getting blacked out. Yes, it’s possible to do this. Yes, we’ve read all the forums that describe exactly how to do it. Yes, we know how to use Google.

But, it is MLBlackout’s position that baseball fans (and paying MLB.tv customers) shouldn’t have to bother with these tactics to watch their favorite team’s baseball games. If you, an individual fan, want to do it, we understand and don’t blame you in the least. But, discussion of ways to circumvent MLB.tv blackouts won’t have any place at this blog, and any comments discussing, advising, or advocating blackout circumvention will be deleted immediately.

To us, it’s simple:

  • It is against MLB.tv’s Terms of Service, which every user agrees to when buying MLB.tv, to circumvent blackouts
  • Baseball fans shouldn’t have to lie, cheat, and steal their way into paying money to watch baseball games
  • Focusing on pressuring Major League Baseball and the Office of the Commissioner to act now to abolish the blackout policy (which is in absolutely everyone’s best interests) is the best result for all fans of baseball and MLB.tv

Until that happens, what you decide to do about blackouts is entirely up to you. We hope that, regardless of what you decide to do, you join us in the effort to end the blackouts for everyone.

March 30, 2008 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

Welcome to MLBlackout: A blog dedicated to ending MLB.tv’s blackout policy

Fans of Major League Baseball everywhere have long understood the potential greatness of MLB.tv since the first game was streamed online in 2002. We could watch almost any game in the country live, with ever-improving video quality, anywhere we had a high-speed internet connection.

MLB.tv has failed to live up to this greatness for one simple reason, however: blackouts. Depending on which zip code a fan is in when accessing the MLB.tv, he is subject to games being blacked out if that zip code falls in one team’s (and sometimes as many as six teams‘) so-called “local markets”. These local markets often extend 300 miles or more, meaning thousands of fans are unable to watch their favorite team(s) play.

We don’t think this makes any sense, and we want to do something about it. This blog will serve as a hub for information and updates about the progress being made to end the blackout restrictions. And end they will, if only because Major League Baseball, and the broadcasters of Major League Baseball games, will come to realize that they are costing themselves revenue by failing to update a policy that stopped having any usefulness to anyone (the fans, the broadcasters, and baseball itself) sometime in the 1970s.

Along with MLBlackout providing updates, news, and fan testimonials about their MLB.tv experiences, we’ve also created an online petition directed at Commissioner Bud Selig (whose office is in charge of the blackout policy), asking him to begin taking the steps immediately to bring an end to blackouts on MLB.tv. The text of the petition is below, and can be signed here.

Dear Commissioner Selig:

We, the undersigned baseball fans, request that you consider an immediate end to Major League Baseball’s blackout policy with regard to games broadcast on MLB.TV.

There are endless reasons why current blackout restrictions are bad for fans, and bad for the game of baseball.

First and foremost, many of us are unable to enjoy watching our favorite teams, even after paying $89.95 to $119.95 for use of the service, simply because we live in, or are using the internet in, the wrong zip code. If a fan is in Minnesota, he can’t watch Twins games. If another is in Phoenix, she can’t watch Diamondbacks games. How does this make any sense?

Some of us don’t have cable television. Some of us want to watch games where there is no television, like in a workplace break room, or a school cafeteria, or a neighborhood cafe. Some of us are unfortunate enough to be in a zip code where blackout rules apply to multiple teams, sometimes as many as six. This is patently ridiculous. Why is it so difficult to get Major League Baseball to accept our money in return for showing us the games we want to see?

Disallowing paying customers the ability to watch their favorite teams wherever they are or whenever they can does harm to baseball, both in retaining current fans and attracting new ones. The current blackout policy is arcane, and serves absolutely no one’s interests: not the game’s, not the teams’, not the broadcasters’ of the games, not MLB.TV’s, and certainly not the fans’.

Please consider abolishing the blackout policy as soon as possible and begin taking steps immediately to make that outcome possible. Let us watch the game we love.

We thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Finally, we encourage you to subscribe to our RSS feed so you can stay up to date, and invite you to contact us anytime at mlblackout@gmail.com to share your blackout stories (and outrage), make suggestions, and chat about baseball.

March 29, 2008 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment


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