PDA

View Full Version : MLB Lunacy (Blackout rules)



flyer85
04-14-2008, 12:13 PM
great article from Maury Brown. This is why I don't subscribe to EI anymore and won't purchase MLB.TV

http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=7357


Not Quite Catching All the Action

by Maury Brown

Nothing is more maddening than feeling like you were buying into a good thing, only to be trapped in the fine print. Take being a baseball fan, for instance. You moved across the country and want to catch your former home team? Here's MLB Extra Innings for television. Traveling and can't get to a TV? Here's MLB.TV for your computer. Want to get video updates, but are away from both? OK, here are near real-time highlights sent to your mobile device. Nowadays, options are plenty if you want to see a game, but can't make it to the ballpark.

Or are they?

When it comes to catching games on Extra Innings or online through MLB.TV, fans are hit in the head with a scorching foul ball. Every person, no matter where they live, is going to get hit with some form of convoluted and arcane blackout restriction. It's just a matter of degree. Everyone gets popped via national blackouts, and some people get nailed due to local restrictions, in some locations by as many as six teams.

So, when providers such as Cox Communications say, "Catch all of the big league action with MLB Extra Innings on Cox Digital Cable," you better scroll down and read, "Blackout and other restrictions apply. Regular Season and Pennant Race packages may not be available in all areas. Programming subject to change." It isn't false advertisement, but as the saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.

For the uninitiated, the blackout policy that you may think of--the NFL's--is a far-off dream when compared to MLB's. In the NFL, blackouts occur in a 75-mile radius around the stadium where a game will be played if the game is not sold out 72 hours or more before the start of the game. The concept is that by blacking out games in your local market, you're more apt to purchase a ticket to the game than sit back at home and watch on the tube. Such is how a sports league with a centralized television deal can function.

With MLB, it's a convoluted amalgamation of crisscrossing and overlapping television territories based upon regional sports networks. Attendance doesn't come into play at all. Sold out or not, at some point one of your EI channels will be blacked out.

Let's start with MLB's pure money grab: national exclusivity deals. Every Saturday, from 1:10 PM ET or before 7:05 PM ET, all games are blacked out due to an exclusivity agreement with FOX, which typically broadcasts one game starting at 3:55 Eastern. That means in a six-hour window in which games are being played, six today, you can watch two at most--the Fox game and your local team if it's playing on TV in that window and isn't the Fox game. On a day such as April 5, the Fox blackout means just four games show up on Extra Innings. On Sundays, ESPN holds the rights to night games, so any games that start after 5 p.m. ET are blacked out. In practice, this only affects a handful of games, as almost all Sunday games are played in the daytime. To add more hair-pulling to the mix, TBS is now in the fray. TBS airs 26 Sunday afternoon games this year which are blacked out in local markets--TBS can air an alternate game in those areas, and as many as 13 of any single team. So those of you in Boston and New York may barely be aware of TBS' new arrangement by the end of the season.

On the local level, the insanity goes to new levels. Back in the days when you had rabbit ears on your television set, a local broadcast area was how far the signal traveled over the air. Since there is no centralized broadcast deal, such as the NFL has, with MLB, there are local broadcast deals for each team. When cable came around, Ted Turner figured out that he wasn't stuck just reaching the Atlanta market for Braves games, he could reach anyone in the U.S. who had TBS on their cable system. That started the free-for-all we see today. That's why you, Mr. and Mrs. Butte Montana, are in the "local" broadcast area for the Seattle Mariners. That's why you, baseball fan in Las Vegas, are blacked out on Extra Innings from the Dodgers, Angels, Athletics, Giants, Diamondbacks and Padres when they're playing at home. In parts of Iowa, it's the Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Twins and Brewers. How do you know if you've been hit with a local blackout? Better have an Internet connection and your Zip code handy. For DirecTV subscribers, here's the location for to look up what is available to you for that week (sorry, you can't look up that matchup a month from now, the listing for dates only goes a week from the current day you're looking up).

Now, Mr. Selig, before you call me up, I know you've said you're working on this issue. He is, at least at the local level. At the national level, the money from FOX, ESPN and TBS was worth more than the complaining from consumers. The real reason MLB is addressing the local issue has to do with the upcoming MLB Network, which will launch next season.

Extra Innings had approximately 750,000 subscribers last season, according to the Sports Business Journal. That will be a small fraction of the subscriber base for the MLB Network which will see a staggering 47 million viewers--the largest cable channel launch in history. So, when Selig said a couple of years ago, "I hear more about people who can't get the game, and, yes, I've already told our people we have to do something about it," addressing the blackout policy is a case of self-preservation. Congress hasn't stuck their nose into the blackout policy (yet), but if the noise coming from fans is loud now, it will be earsplitting with the MLB Network coming online.

Here's the deal, though. The national exclusivities will still be in place, and even if the "local" territorial issue is tweaked, it's not going to be enough based on MLB's need for local broadcast deals and the number of games in play. In other words, MLB can't get to the NFL's level, and therefore, the best MLB can do is try and lessen the blow. There will still be arcane blackouts that cause you to scratch your head. There will still be fumbling around to try and figure on who is, or isn't blacked out that day. There will still be that massive national blackout, and when we all get MLB Network (well, everyone that has cable and satellite television), we're going to be seeing some form of blackout policy there as well. Only in baseball would there be a collective head nod to the idea that it's good business practice to restrict consumers' access to your product.

nate
04-14-2008, 12:32 PM
Yup.

Yesterday's game was the first that's been broadcast on cable here in Music City. I almost had a mini-rage because Reds Live was scheduled for 12:30 and at noon, some high school all-star basketball game came on. I called Comcast to find out what the deal was and while I was talking to the Comastian, the TV blacked out and went to Reds Live. I asked him if he "flipped the switch" for me but he wasn't quick enough to say "yes, yes I did!"

Oddly, even subscribing to EI won't let me watch the Reds. The only way to see them is to get DirecTV and add the "SportsPack" (which is like $5 a month versus $200 for the MLB season). I'd gladly pay the two bills for the season but I'm even happier to put five on it.

Joseph
04-14-2008, 12:34 PM
47 million people will get the MLB Channel upon launch?

Wow.

Unassisted
04-14-2008, 01:27 PM
Considering how difficult it is to get cable systems to add a cable channel, wrapping it in the guise of "solving the blackout problem" is pure genius! That'll get both legislators on board and the fans who just want to watch games.

I wonder if MLB will also be doing battle to get this channel on basic cable, just as its brethren the NFL Network and Big 10 Network have notoriously done before it?

Reds Fanatic
04-14-2008, 01:56 PM
Considering how difficult it is to get cable systems to add a cable channel, wrapping it in the guise of "solving the blackout problem" is pure genius! That'll get both legislators on board and the fans who just want to watch games.

I wonder if MLB will also be doing battle to get this channel on basic cable, just as its brethren the NFL Network and Big 10 Network have notoriously done before it?

The MLB channel will be on basic cable when it launches. MLB won the battle last year. When it looked like Extra Innings was going to Directv exclusively part of the deal to get cable to be able to still offer the Extra Innings package was the cable companies had to agree to carry the MLB channel on basic cable. So if your cable company carries Extra Innings you should get the MLB channel on your basic cable next year.

westofyou
04-14-2008, 02:54 PM
Maury of course lives here in PDX and well... we don't have any blackout issues that effect us.

I can't complain, I've seen 10 times as much Reds baseball myself the last 6 years than I did the prior 20.. and that's because of EI.

flyer85
04-14-2008, 02:56 PM
Maury of course lives here in PDX and well... we don't have any blackout issues that effect us.

I can't complain, I've seen 10 times as much Reds baseball myself the last 6 years than I did the prior 20.. and that's because of EI.EI is a wonderful thing for an out of market fan that doesn't get blacked out by any of their arcane rules. However, there are a lot who do and it makes no sense whatsoever.

SirFelixCat
04-14-2008, 03:59 PM
Living here in Las Vegas, I'm about to encounter these BS rules here in just a few more days. 6 teams I'm blacked out on...6. Really people?!? I knew this already, but **** me this is just beyond dumb.

Reds Fanatic
04-14-2008, 04:33 PM
According to this article in May the teams are supposed to submit their actual broadcast territories to MLB so hopefully sometime soon they will fix these outdated ridiculous rules.

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-blackouts040608&prov=yhoo&type=lgns


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.

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.

The year is nigh, and though the MLB source said it’s too late to implement the changes this season, MLB will try to do so before 2009, when it launches the Baseball Channel, potentially its biggest money-making venture since MLB.com grew into a $2 billion business. The Baseball Channel will be much like the NFL Network.

MLB.com’s success helped fuel the hullabaloo over the blackouts. MLB.tv advertises that it broadcasts “every game” over the Internet, conveniently forgetting to publicize the caveat that sometimes leaves more black screens than RGB. The majority of the public is unfamiliar with blackout rules until confronted with them from MLB.tv or the televised Extra Innings package, then outraged at a policy that originated around the Summer of Love and hasn’t changed.

Back then, MLB had 20 teams and little television coverage beyond the postseason. Territorial rights were analog endowments carried into the digital age, and while in some cases they still apply – the Red Sox own a legitimate claim to the entirety of New England with regional-sports network NESN’s ubiquity there, and the Yankees and Mets are big enough draws for the YES Network and SportsNet New York to stretch across their territories, and perhaps beyond – most should be up for grabs.

Is Des Moines a Twins territory? Do the White Sox have a genuine claim? Why not the Royals? They’re closest. The Cubs are the most popular, the Cardinals traditionally the most successful, the Brewers currently the best. If nothing else, the re-written territorial-rights map could give teams incentive to actively pursue areas such as Iowa and Las Vegas and draw new fans instead of relying on what they inherited. The forgotten would turn into the recruited.

Obstacles do remain, which is why 2009 is an optimistic date and the blackouts could stretch into the next decade. DuPuy may not be satisfied with teams’ findings, and teams may fight for their territories out of fear that the have-have not divide would only deepen with a re-drawn map.

Take, for example, El Paso, Texas. It is about six hours from the nearest team – which happens to be in Arizona. The two teams in Texas, the Rangers and Astros, are about 10 hours away. So who gets El Paso? Surely it’s not an orphan.

Cities with multiple cable companies offer problems too, if teams work out TV distribution deals with one outlet but not the other. Technically, the game would be available in that area, no matter how limited. Would it be blacked out?

Baseball is well-versed enough in compromise to figure out ways to satiate both the owners and public. Fans already give up most Saturday afternoon games to the blackout Fox bought so it could have exclusivity. It isn’t fair. It is business, and the financial prosperity derived from TV contracts and other media rights has helped baseball avoid work stoppages for consecutive collective-bargaining agreements. The trade is worth it.

Most promising is baseball listening to its public. During the MLB Extra Innings debacle last year, in which baseball held cable companies hostage by threatening not to offer them the package unless they put the Baseball Channel on basic digital cable, MLB ignored the outcries of its fans and instead chased a buck. Cable companies didn’t and bowed to MLB’s request, thus ensuring the Baseball Channel the largest launch in cable history.

This time, it was different. You wrote the letters. You lodged the complaints. You hammered home the inanity of it all.

And when the black cloud is lifted, you’ll have reason to celebrate, right there on your screens in beautiful color.

KronoRed
04-14-2008, 04:41 PM
I wouldn't hold my breath, teams aren't going to abandon any territory unless they are forced too.

MLB should just lay down a 40mile limit around cities and allow everything else to be free.

Jpup
04-14-2008, 06:02 PM
I don't understand why people think it should be free to watch a team from across the country. Yes, you should be able to watch the local team, no matter what, but If I want to watch the Yankees in KY, I should expect to pay for it. I wish I did not have to, but it's to be expected.

What I don't understand is that, about once a week, I record the Yankees game when I am at work and it doesn't show up. I record every Reds and Yankees game so I can watch them when I get home and nothing is worse than hitting play and the screen going black. I don't get it. I haven't had any problem with the Reds games, thankfully. I suspect this is a DTV problem.

Sea Ray
04-14-2008, 06:15 PM
Actually those of us in Cincinnati should thank our lucky stars. The Reds are the only team blacked out for us so we get all the other EI games and usually the Reds are on FSN locally. So the only games we're screwed out of are the Thurs businessday specials and the rare day game a week ago vs the Phillies.

I don't understand why MLB has such strange blackout zones. Why would they blackout a team that is not on a local FSN channel? I can't imagine that in Las Vegas they have 6 teams available on their local FSN networks. They ought to re-work them so no one is in more than 2 blackout zones.

Sea Ray
04-14-2008, 06:17 PM
I don't understand why people think it should be free to watch a team from across the country. Yes, you should be able to watch the local team, no matter what, but If I want to watch the Yankees in KY, I should expect to pay for it. I wish I did not have to, but it's to be expected.

What I don't understand is that, about once a week, I record the Yankees game when I am at work and it doesn't show up. I record every Reds and Yankees game so I can watch them when I get home and nothing is worse than hitting play and the screen going black. I don't get it. I haven't had any problem with the Reds games, thankfully. I suspect this is a DTV problem.


The issue isn't paying for it. This article addresses what you get after you fork out your money for EI package.

919191
04-14-2008, 06:40 PM
In Terre Haute, the Reds , Cardinals, and both Chicago teams are blacked out, and are classified as local. With them being local, I can get all the Reds and Cardinal games on Fox, and the Chicago games on WGN and Comcast, and I get everything else on EI and Superfan on DirectV. Blackout rules don't really affect me, but they are pretty syupid for a lot of people elsewhere.

Sea Ray
04-14-2008, 07:07 PM
In Terre Haute, the Reds , Cardinals, and both Chicago teams are blacked out, and are classified as local. With them being local, I can get all the Reds and Cardinal games on Fox, and the Chicago games on WGN and Comcast, and I get everything else on EI and Superfan on DirectV. Blackout rules don't really affect me, but they are pretty syupid for a lot of people elsewhere.

What channels do you get the Reds and Cardinals? Do you get two FSNs?

Hollcat
04-15-2008, 03:07 AM
What fires me up is blacking out the opposing teams broadcast from those of us in the Reds market when there is no Cincinnati broadcast team airing the game. I'm fine with it when FSN Cincy is showing the game, eventhough I would like to be able to listen to the opponents broadcasters at times I understand blacking them out to so that FSN can ensure their advertisers that people watching in the Reds market will be watching on FSN Cincinnati and not the other teams broadcast but when there is not a Reds broadcast (Like Cueto's first start against AZ and basically all of the 12:35 games) why not lift the blackout so that Reds fans can still watch the game via the opponents broadcast which only increases the number of people watching baseball.

KronoRed
04-15-2008, 03:21 AM
I don't understand why people think it should be free to watch a team from across the country. Yes, you should be able to watch the local team, no matter what, but If I want to watch the Yankees in KY, I should expect to pay for it. I wish I did not have to, but it's to be expected.


Nobody is asking for free games, but if you sign up for EI or MLB.TV you shouldn't be prevented from watching certain games based on where your zip code is.

Jpup
04-15-2008, 06:05 AM
Nobody is asking for free games, but if you sign up for EI or MLB.TV you shouldn't be prevented from watching certain games based on where your zip code is.

I agree unless you live in that City, within a certain area, and the game isn't a sellout.

OldRightHander
04-15-2008, 06:58 AM
I'm still miffed at the whole FSN deal as well, but I guess the days of games being on over the air channels that folks without cable can get are done. That's where the NFL has it right. Fans can usually watch most of their team's games without needing cable or satellite.

919191
04-15-2008, 09:29 AM
Reds on 638 and 638-1 when it's on in high def, and the Cardinals on 647 and 647-1.