One of the most ridiculous things in sports, and in particular about Major League Baseball, is the blackout restriction. If you are “local” to a team, you must have a cable subscription in order to watch the local team play on your television. Despite the fact that MLBtv has existed for nearly 20 years, and allows you to stream every single Major League Baseball game if you have an internet connection, if you live in a market you can’t actually watch the team that plays there. You are tied to having to have cable/satellite in order to have the channel to watch those games.
When MLBtv first started, that wasn’t much of an issue. But in the last 5-10 years, cord cutting has become a big thing. Paying $95 a month for cable isn’t something many are willing to do anymore in order to watch four channels. So they’ve cut cable and paid for Netflix and Hulu, paying $20 a month instead. If you are a sports fan, though, it’s not as easy to do that. Sports are making enormous amounts of money these days through their ties to cable channels. When the DVR began to gain popularity, commercials lost their value because people would just record stuff and watch it later, and fast forward through the commercials.
No one watches sports that way. People watch sports live, so they saw the commercials, and in turn, the commercials sold within those programs were huge money makers. It’s why the Dodgers were able to get $200,000,000 per year for their television contract. But as the years have gone by, more people are dropping cable and finding other ways to watch their choice of sports, or not watch them at all. If you live in Cincinnati and want to watch the Reds, you can’t just cut cable and get MLBtv. But if you live in Denver and want to watch the Reds, you can absolutely cut cable and get MLBtv and watch them.
Well, it seems that Major League Baseball may be trying to change that. Sort of. There aren’t exactly specifics out there, but Hanna Keyser of Yahoo! Sports reported that at the owners meetings they voted unanimously to approve a revised interactive media rights agreement. When asked for more specifics, Rob Manfred said this:
The biggest single change was the return of certain in-market digital rights — the rights that have essentially become substitutional with broadcast rights — those rights will return to the clubs.
The article by Keyser implies that what this means is that this isn’t exactly going to apply to MLBtv being able to sell you a Reds package in Cincinnati, but that Fox Sports Ohio will be able to. Currently Fox Sports Ohio gets something like $8 of every subscription to cable/satellite/whatever service that includes the channel. There’s almost no way that it would be that cheap if they sold it as a stand alone option. As a part of the overall cable package they are getting a ton of subscribers to pay that fee even though they will never watch it. Likewise, there are idiots like me who only have cable because of the need to watch Reds games, and I’d cut the cord so quick I’d blow a hamstring doing so if I could just pay Fox Sports Ohio a fee that cut down the cable bill I pay since it’s literally the only “cable” channel I watch.
Fox Sports Ohio is going to want to keep making the same amount of money as they do now, if not more. So they have to price it right so that doesn’t change. I’m just pulling a number out of thin air, but something like $20 a month sounds about right. It is enough for Fox Sports to keep making their money, while losing money from other products they own, but also the right amount that a Reds watcher cord cutter would be willing to pay in-market to get away from the other part of the cable bill that they never intended to use anyways.
Much of this is speculation, but it’s speculation with reasoning behind it. If the option does become available, what would you be willing to pay to be able to stream in-market games? Is my $20 a month proposal too high?