One of the things I find most deplorable about Major League Baseball is its blackout policies. Its origins are set deep into the financial structure of the television contracts at the national and regional levels and for that reason, fans have no choice but to live with it.
From the viewer’s perspective, the rules are confusing and frustrating. At its essence, the national situation is this. During the times when games are covered by FOX Network on Saturday and ESPN on Sunday nights, viewers are prohibited from seeing other out-of-market contests – even if one is paying for MLB’s premium packages such as MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings.
Perhaps more so than any other team, the “nation” part of the Cardinal Nation feels the impact. From the days when the Cards were the only team west of the Mississippi and MLB had not yet entered the South, Cardinals fandom became most widespread.
As such, one could argue that support of the Cardinals is even deeper-rooted than MLB’s blackout policy. Yet on days like this, fandom has to take a back seat to these consumer-unfriendly rules.
Specifically, on this Saturday, May 25, much of the country will be stuck viewing one of four other contests such as Marlins-White Sox and A’s-Astros, rather than being given a choice to see the Cardinals-Dodgers instead. (Link to Saturday’s FOX MLB coverage map.) The only live alternative is to turn back the clock and listen to radio broadcasts.
This exclusivity window is baked into the national television contracts, which run through 2021. Even worse news for the future is that starting in 2014, FOX’s regular-season game rights will double – from 26 to 52.
In other words, the conflicts will only increase over the next eight years. (See important update in comments section below.)
The money involved in these broadcast rights is huge, with FOX to pay MLB an estimated half-billion per year and ESPN even higher at $700 million annually (which include post-season coverage). For that reason, relief from the national weekend television blackouts is seemingly not on the horizon.