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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Can MLB’s television blackouts be cracked in court?

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 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.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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27 Responses to “Can MLB’s television blackouts be cracked in court?”

  1. blingboy says:

    I was happy to see that the Cubs are among the nine MLB teams being sued along with the commissioner and other defendants. It goes without saying they are guilty and should be penalized severely.

    The White Sox are named also, and they should be penalized severely too, starting now. And confiscate all their gloves for evidence.

  2. crdswmn says:

    I will be following that court case very closely. It is time for MLB’s antitrust exemption to go away. No other professional sport has such an exemption and MLB shouldn’t have one either.

    I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had any difficulty watching Cardinals games. My local Fox affiliate always carries the Cardinals games. But I would like to be able to watch other teams play on Saturdays when my local Fox affiliate is not carrying a game I want to watch. I have MLB.TV and would like to be able to watch the games I choose. At least for me, Fox’s policy does not force me to watch what they offer me. It forces me to watch something other than baseball or turn the TV off, because 90% of the time when the Cardinals are not on Fox, I am shown some AL game (usually the Yankees or the Red Sox) that I will not watch.

  3. WesPowell says:

    God Almighty himself has been punishing the Cubs and their fans forever. And here we have a gang wanting more blood.

  4. WesPowell says:

    Wasn’t Steve Bartman enough to satisfy your sadism?

  5. WesPowell says:

    They play a helpful role though. When my beloved Cards are on the skids a bit, kinda like right now, I always imagine that I could have been born into a Cubs family in Chicago, thus almost surely becoming a fan. And it perks me right back up.

  6. blingboy says:

    Mike is doing his best to stroke the 799 gorillas.

    1. Rafael Furcal (S) SS
    2. Yadier Molina (R) C
    3. Matt Holliday (R) LF
    4. Carlos Beltran (S) RF
    5. Allen Craig (R) 1B
    6. David Freese (R) 3B
    7. Tyler Greene (R) 2B
    8. Shane Robinson (R) CF
    9. Adam Wainwright (R) P

    The Sox should try for the all time DP turned record.

    • kray66 says:

      You predicted the future well. Was it three DPs last night? Probably nowhere near a record, but they were killers for us.

      It says something when the box score reads the same for hits for both teams, yet the loser gets outscored 6-1.

  7. WesPowell says:

    Where have you gone Ernie Broglio, a nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you, woo, woo woo………. Heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey, hey, hey.

  8. WesPowell says:

    This is in bad taste. The gentleman offers up a reasonable and informative post about black outs, and a pod of hyenas savage the carcass of the Cubs.

  9. WesPowell says:

    I may as well wade in a pull a juicy rib bone away….20-40. They are a half a game up on the 20-41 Padres for last place NL and AL combined. It’s a small step for a Cub, but one giant leap for Cubskind.

  10. WesPowell says:

    I’m still hungry. Back to Bartman. The guy did not catch the pop up. He’s a Cub through and through. Why is he hated by the fandom?

  11. blingboy says:

    Goold has an article looking at who should bat third. That never would have happened before, and rubs Holliday’s nose in the fact he’s a 799 lb gorilla, which is not an 800 gorilla.

    Mike seems to have found a way to satisfy both Matt and Carlos with tonight’s lineup, without, presumably, offending Yadi. I’m not sure it’s a good thing, but its something. Its what Tony would have done. Lets see what happens.

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      Young coach….. Players coach…… Chest bumping coach…….. when it comes time to start moving people around, to save your own skin………… they all pout like children……. Beltran’s whole demeanor tonight has been one of protest…….. if Molina is hanging his head its because he knows Carlos has leverage and will prevail……………. Freese made adjustments…………helps…….. we’re taking it hard now………better than a one run loss………………… I sit Furcal and Beltran both tomorrow……

      The tragedy here is Wainwright has lost the teams support………even though he pitched well…….
      I loved it when their pitching coach goes out after Matheny sends Chambers up against Thornton………
      ……………….. he probably said……..” I don’t know what the F is up with this move”………….but be on your toes……he could be carrying a bomb……..

      • blingboy says:

        Everybody in LA probably saw Albert playing 3B vs the Dodgers. I’d bet Sciocia had some help with that lineup.

        If Mike wants to win games, and have the respect of the team, he has to exert some bit of independence from the guys who are protecting investments. He is not a big investment so his only protection is success.

        As to the Chambers move, I was thinking the same thing.

  12. crdswmn says:

    Bad baseball.

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