How Can I Watch Baseball Without Blackouts?

Baseball Equipment Laying on Grass --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Q. I live in the LA area and I’m sick and tired of not being able to watch my Dodgers at home on TV. Isn’t there any way to watch my guys without subscribing to Time Warner Cable? — Cal, Santa Monica, CA

Cal, many fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees will likely be unable to cheer their favorites at home this week, and perhaps throughout the 2016 season, due to fee fights between programmers and pay TV providers.

SportsNet LA, which airs the Dodgers games, has been unable to persuade any major TV providers besides Charter and Time Warner to carry the channel. And Comcast is refusing to carry the Yankees channel, The Yes Network, in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania due to a similar dispute.

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However, there is a way for blackout victims to watch the games at home even if the programming disputes are not resolved.

The answer is three little letters: VPN.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that you can download that will enable you to use an IP address different from your own. For instance, if you live in Detroit, you could insert an IP address supplied by the VPN company that would say you live in Denmark.

You probably don’t need me to tell you what’s next. If you live in LA or Comcast markets in the New York area, you could use your VPN to say you live overseas. Then, you could subscribe to the MLB.TV online package and watch your local team because the the IP address wouldn’t say LA or the New York area. (Normally, MLB.TV is required to blackout the in-market game because the regional channel has the exclusive rights. But in this case, MLB.TV wouldn’t know you live in that market.)

The use of a VPN to avoid sports blackouts certainly is an ethical test, and perhaps even a legal one, although it’s never been challenged in court. MLB.TV professes to oppose VPNs, including language buried deep in its terms of use for MLB.com that says anyone who attempts to “circumvent” a MLB.TV blackout restriction could lose his subscription and possibly be “:subject to legal action.”

But the league actually refers to its use in MLB.TV’s FAQ section for its blackout policy. The league explains how a game could be blacked out in a home because of a VPN.

“If you are accessing the Internet through a VPN connection, you might be getting a blackout message because the host IP address for the VPN is within the restricted range of the game that you are trying to access,” the site says. (For example,if your VPN uses a St. Louis IP, you couldn’t watch the Cardinals.)

MLB.TV’s FAQ adds that you should try dismantling the VPN and then see if your out-of-market game is still blacked out. But it doesn’t take the opportunity here to say that VPN use is prohibited, which could be interpreted as a wink and a nod that you can. (More people likely read the plan’s FAQ than the lengthy ‘terms of use.’)

Some fans have speculated that MLB looks the other way because more people will subscribe to MLB.TV, which means more revenue for the league. Considering that MLB.TV has not engaged in a public war on VPN use, as Netflix has, that speculation is not easily dismissed. If the league truly wanted to stop VPNs, it would seem that a more aggressive attack, including highly publicized legal challenges, would be necessary.

After all, many Dodgers fans have publicly admitted to local publications that they are using VPNs to watch their team and the league has not initiated any known legal cases against them. When asked about VPNs by the Los Angeles Times, MLB officials simply pointed to the ‘terms of use’ language and said they didn’t take the violations lightly.

That will hardly stop a die-hard fan who’s desperate to watch his or her team.

Options
which VPN should you use if you decide to go that route? Unlocator is a popular choice at $4.95 a month and it offers a 14-day free trial. Unlocator can work with various computer platforms and streaming devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. (So, yes, you could watch the games on your television.)

PC Magazine has also published this guide to the ‘best VPNs of 2016.’

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About TV Answer Man (521 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

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