Major League Baseball is considering combining its two primary subscription offerings for out-of-market games – Extra Innings and MLB.TV – into one. A motivator is to increase their bargaining leverage for their in-house network, MLB Network, with cable systems. This news comes from SportsBusiness Journal’s John Ourand, quoting MLB Executive Vice President of Business Tim Brosnan.
Though not positioned as being a pro-consumer move, it may be spun that way, potentially opening up alternatives to baseball fans. While both offerings enable customers to view varying quantities of MLB’s out-of-market games (always within the existing territorial and blackout rules), they have been totally separate. In other words, a subscription to the television package on cable or DirecTV does not enable one to view the same games on-line, and vice-versa.
The SBJ article notes that the growth of the MLB.TV on-line offering has been fueled by boxes such as Apple TV and Roku that enable the internet stream to be viewed on televisions as well as computers. Correspondingly, sales of the Extra Innings package have been “depressing,” says the report. The systems carrying EI are the same ones carrying MLB Network.
This isn’t just a new technology issue. It is very much about money – and choice.
Let’s look at this from the consumer’s view.
Last season, Extra Innings’ list price was $223.96. The package provided “over 80 out of market games each week including up to 40 games in HD.” In other words, all games were not offered.
MLB.TV’s base price was less than half, at $109.99, or $124.99 for their Premium offering. The latter allowed selection of home or away broadcasts, DVR-like controls, multi-game windowing and other features.
MLB.TV also offered more games with more of them in high definition for the lower price, touting availability of “every out-of-market regular-season game live or on-demand, generally in HD quality.”
Further, MLB provided their minor league offering, MiLB.TV, to MLB.TV customers at half price, $20 versus $39.95.
Granted, MLB.TV has not been as reliable as EI. Overall, the internet is less reliable than cable, though that gap is closing.
Also, one does need an interface box to watch MLB.TV on a television, but many already own a Roku for Netflix, a PS3 or Xbox 360 for gaming or an LG, Panasonic or Samsung TV or Blu-ray Disc player, for example.
Given all that, is there any wonder that Extra Innings has been struggling while MLB.TV has been growing?
So for 2013, the $64,000 question for consumers is this: If the two offerings are combined, what will be the price?
Would MLB risk alienating their fastest-growing market segment, the on-line buyer, by jacking up MLB.TV’s price under the spurious claim of giving more choices to the viewer who already has it all? What choices are available to unhappy fans?
Or will MLB drop the price of Extra Innings to the current level of MLB.TV? That move would recognize the reality that EI has been a non-competitive offering – with higher prices and fewer games having been available. Would cable and satellite providers be satisfied with a lower price if it put them on a more level ground at which to compete with the on-line product?
Is this all secondary to MLB’s desire to maximize revenue for MLB Network? Will MLB put the consumer in the back seat as they make whatever moves they determine will best enable them to increase penetration of MLB Network while securing greater per subscriber rates from its carriers in the future?
In the past, MLB has been criticized for their low levels of sensitivity to the customer in their chase for the dollar. Let’s hope this time will be different.
February 5 update: MLB has just announced its 2013 MLB.TV prices (for mobile and connected devices, not cable or satellite). In what has to be considered good news, they look to be the same as last year. The basic offering is $109.99 and the Premium is $129.99. The latter includes the At-Bat subscription and other benefits.
There is no mention of any ties to MLB Extra Innings, so perhaps that idea was tabled for 2013.
On the DirectTV website, MLB Extra Innings can be ordered for $199.95, though I cannot tell if the page has been freshly updated for 2013.