Q. I just re-upped for Major League Baseball package but I can’t watch Washington Nationals games on it because they are blacked out, no matter where they play. Why?! This drives me crazy. I pay enough for the package ,after all. And I’m not going back to cable or satellite just for baseball! — Mike, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Mike, as you know, the 2018 edition of MLB.TV, the league’s online package, offers all out-of-market games for $115.99.
But Major League Baseball’s blackout policy says any game in your “home television territory” will be blacked out whether the team is playing at home or away. You can not watch the game live, but MLB.TV will offer the game in its archives roughly 90 minutes after the game is over.
It doesn’t seem right, does it? You pay $116 for the MLB.TV package so it would only seem fair that you would get all the games, particularly your home team. But here’s the method behind MLB’s madness.
Your local regional sports channel — in this case, MASN, which airs both the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles — pays a significant amount of money for the rights to broadcast those games. It wants you to watch the game on its channel, not a baseball package.
If people are watching the game via a pay package, the ratings for the regional channel will decline and it won’t be able to charge as much for commercials.
Okay, you’re thinking, couldn’t the regional sports channel just add the viewers who watch their game on the package with those who watch it on their channel and come up with a bottom line number?
It’s not that easy. First, research shows that viewers of a pay package of games are less likely to spend as much time watching one game in particular, say the Nats game. In between innings, the MLB.TV viewer will flip around and watch other games rather than watch the commercials. That’s bad for MASN and its advertisers.
Plus, Nielsen does not measure viewing of individual games in a pay package such as MLB.TV so it would be impossible to accurately determine exactly how many people are watching the Nats. That’s bad for MASN, too.
Finally, the regional sports channel wants you to watch it rather than the package because it helps build interest in the channel as a whole. For instance, most regional sports channels air pre-game and post-game shows. If you watch the game on the regional sports channel, you’re more likely to watch those as well.
In fact, Major League Baseball is so concerned about ensuring the regional sports channel gets its money’s worth that it still requires a blackout even if the channel doesn’t air the game, or even if it’s not aired by any channel locally.
And even more frustrating, the league will extend the blackout of the local team scores of miles away from the regional channel’s home base. (Fans in Las Vegas and Iowa are particularly hit hard by this, being unable to watch multiple teams.)
MLB doesn’t want the regional sports channel coming back and complaining that the pay package is stealing potential viewers, even if it the odds of them watching the regional channel is small.
Bottom line: The local blackout rule protects the regional sports channel, which paid a lot of money for that protection.
Final note: MLB.TV does not blackout the home team’s games in spring training, only the regular season.
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— Phillip Swann