This subject has been on my too-long to-do list to write about for some time. It is one that has been a recurring theme for me over the years – Major League Baseball’s confusing and maddening television blackouts.
For me, the subject comes to the forefront most often this time of year on Saturdays when FOX national telecasts force all other games off the air during their weekly chosen time slot. It is sort of like when The President flies into a city and all other flights at area airports are grounded during that window, only far less defensible.
What makes matters worse is that FOX has moved their exclusive window from Saturday afternoon to night for eight weeks this summer. Even if your favorite club happens to be participating in one of the selected regional games, it may or may not be the contest shown on your local FOX affiliate. And if it isn’t, you have no legal way to try to watch the telecast.
Fans have been angered for years by the headlines in MLB-related sales materials that assure them they can “watch every out-of-market game LIVE,” but do not deliver on the promise.
The “fine print” is in the muddled territory rights, where local markets can be claimed by multiple teams and often overlap in ways that most cannot understand, let alone negotiate. In one of many crazy examples, parts of Iowa are in six different team’s local markets.
Even if fans subscribe to MLB’s pay offerings, residents can’t always watch their favorite team. Their service provider probably does not offer all of the “local” clubs’ home regional networks, leaving the fans with no way to see many games, blacked out on a territorial basis by MLB Extra Innings and MLB.tv.
MLB has been talking about the problem since at least 2006, but no visible action has occurred to rectify a mess that has evolved over the years. The issue is most certainly money.
As Cardinals fans saw with the recent Albert Pujols defection, local television rights can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The path of least resistance seems to involve avoiding disturbing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Many of the millions impacted don’t want to accept it, but feel powerless to do anything.
That may have changed last month with the filing of a class action antitrust lawsuit in New York. The plaintiffs in Garber v. MLB allege that MLB is an “illegal cartel” that has violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act by unfairly restricting its fans’ ability to watch out-of-market broadcasts. (For more details, including a link to the actual suit, scan down to the May 12 entry here.)
It is too early to tell if anything will come from this. MLB has enjoyed exemption from the Act since 1922 and would surely fight to the death to protect perhaps its most golden goose of all.