Growing Numbers of Fans Cannot See MLB Games – And No One Cares

At least 10% of St. Louis Cardinals fans cannot view games, with no end in sight to money disputes between regional sports networks and distributors. Even those with access continue to be plagued by archaic blackout rules. MLB remains tone deaf.

I don’t often echo members of the St. Louis media who have much larger audiences than I do. After all, if you follow me, you surely already follow them, too.

I made an exception on Friday, re-Tweeting the following because I share Ben Fredrickson’s concern over the inability of a growing number of fans to see their favorite team in action via their preferred television provider.

The Post-Dispatch columnist outlines the disputes between rightsholders and carriers and laments the apparent disinterest by Major League Baseball to engage, let alone alleviate the problem.

Estimates from multiple knowledgeable sources indicate that at least 10% of St. Louis Cardinals fans cannot view the team via their current television setup. Many of them have lost their access in recent months as Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of Bally Sports Midwest (formerly FOX Sports Midwest), has priced their offering such that online carriers including Dish Network, YouTube TV, Hulu+ and others have refused to pay, instead dropping the channel.

In some areas of Cardinals country, fewer games are available than years past as alternate channel access to the appropriate regional sports networks (RSNs) has been limited. Other fans complain about the high price of the one non-cable service that still carries the RSN’s – AT&T TV – which starts at $84.99 per month plus tax for the required package.

This is not unique to the Cardinals, with same outcome being experienced across the country. This wide scope is precisely why MLB should step in. Yet, with several of these disputes running into multiple seasons, there is no evidence that anyone is advocating for the fan.

To resolve any financial dispute, someone must be willing to accept less, so the other side may make more.

Sadly, the current state of affairs should not be surprising. Large segments of the public being unable to view games is not new, as evidenced by decades of inaction by MLB to address fan concerns with arbitrary territorial restrictions.

Fredrickson recounts the ridiculousness of MLB’s blackout rules, which have for years entitled multiple teams in certain areas of the country to stake overlapping territorial claims.

In areas of Iowa, for example, six different teams’ broadcasts are blacked out. Same with Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bud Selig (Stephen Brashear/AP)

This problem was brought to the attention of then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig way back in 2006, which he noted was “spurred on by thousands of letters from angry fans” as well as his own negative experience.

“I don’t understand (blackouts) myself,” Selig admitted at a luncheon with the Baseball Writers Association of America. “I get blacked out from some games.”

“Right now,” he said, “I don’t know what to do about it. We’ll figure it out.”

“I hear more about people who can’t get the game,” Selig said, “and, yes, I’ve already told our people we have to do something about it.”

15 years later, why has nothing changed? In fact, with the dropping of regional sports networks by many providers, the problem is even worse today.

My speculation is that these territory definitions are rooted in the long-term contracts between teams and their rightsholders. For example, the Cardinals and have a commitment that requires Sinclair to pay them more than $1 billion over 15 years, which continues through the 2032 season. The potential of opening these contracts for most if not all of the 30 MLB teams and a possible disruption in revenue may be a reason the problems continue to be ignored.

Late last year, Sinclair’s leader offered a new hope – before dashing it shortly after. CEO Christopher S. Ripley announced a new direct-to-consumer offering for their RSNs would be made available in 2021.

Finally – the ability to simply order Bally Sports Midwest, cutting out the middlemen! But, what would its price be? And would the maddening blackouts continue?

It never progressed that far, at least publicly, When 2021 arrived, the proposed offering’s arrival date was slipped to 2022.

Sinclair Backs off Plan to Deliver RSNs Directly to Customers in 2021

Simply put, if these matters are not addressed from the top down – specifically MLB headquarters in New York – there seems little hope for any progress. But why should the Lords of Baseball care?

Thanks to growing revenues from lucrative sponsorships ($1 billion over 10 years from Nike, for example) and its digital endeavors, Major League Baseball remains a highly profitable business entity. Any fan-based focus seems to be on trivial rules changes to supposedly make the game more enjoyable, while ignoring the reality that fewer and fewer fans can even consume their product.

That its access from its fan base is rotting from the inside out seems to a concern of no one in MLB.

So, what’s new?

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