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Why MLB.TV Blackouts Your Home Team

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

About TV Answer Man (1332 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.

12 Comments on Why MLB.TV Blackouts Your Home Team

  1. This is why baseball is dying. An inability to modernize, especially with regard to TV. I live in NC and am blacked out of all O’s and Nats games. Absurd.

  2. $115 down the drain. I just confirmed this with MLB Support today. Just terrible…

  3. Just cancelled my MLB.TV. It mostly worked for the Royals in 2017 but no go in 2018 against any teams. What a disaster MLB is in Iowa with being 300+ miles from 6 blacked out teams.

  4. Can’t wait until the MLB starts panicking. Most of their base is over 55 and with the blackouts the kids aren’t watching either. As a result, less kids play down here in North Carolina. I stopped watching as a result and same goes for my kid. Worst attendance in 15 years coupled with the greed of MLB and cable companies. America’s pastime is going down faster than anyone expected. Here’s a big 🖕to Rob Manfred. What a joke of a commissioner.

  5. I live in NW Indiana and am a cord/satellite cutter. I have Directv Now and PS Vue and have paid for access to local channels. Guess what? Blacked out til kingdom come. My luck is that I go ahead and attempt the digital antenna and the following year is when they’ll decide to allow Streaming TV services to have local sports streaming.

    The future of any brand is to be able to adapt and be flexible. MLB makes no sense with their marketing approach, AT ALL. WTF.

  6. Dung Tien Pham // April 24, 2018 at 10:53 pm // Reply

    I bought the package for the Angels two weeks ago, have not been able to see a game. got to be the worst 90 dollars spent.

  7. I live in State College Pennsylvania. This year I am now blacked out for both the Philadelphia Phillies (new this year) and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

  8. I am blacked out for both home and away games for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. There are no Philadelphia TV stations in State College.

  9. Wendy N Spiro // July 24, 2018 at 7:55 am // Reply

    We won’t renew our subscription unless something changes. We are blacked out from 3 teams. We live a minimum of three hours from each one (5 hours from the third with no local channels in the area even covering that team). We cut our cable recently, so we will have no access to any of our team’s games. It’s frustrating.

  10. Michael Groner // July 26, 2018 at 1:14 am // Reply

    I now reside over 1000 miles from where my home team is located. I have been overseas throughout the last 10 baseball seasons and watch 100% of my home team (Seattle Mariners). I have just recently returned to the US at a time during which the Mariners have a chance of making it to the post season for first time in many years. I am the loyalist of fans for my team and it has meant so very much to me, particularly, throughout these last few years to be able to watch them overseas. They have, literally, contributed to saving (or extending) my life. I am alone and have gone through several major medical operations but being able to watch the Mariners during the baseball months has had significant therapeutic and life-saving benefits for me. Now, having returned to the US to continue my life, I am told that I will no longer be able to watch the Mariners because for the final 2 + months of the baseball season, they play 95% of their remaining games against teams that are classified as ‘blackout’ broadcasts. Surely, someone at MLBTV has the courage, conviction and compassion to understand how important this is to a struggling and dying human being. Is not even one life more important than any other reason for preventing a person from continuing his loyalty and emotional affiliation to his team, to an organization that has been a major influence in extending his life. Learning upon my return home to the US, I have since become more despondent and depressed and perhaps now will experience a reversal of my previously more favorable health of recent times and, therefore, not be able to sustain my satisfactory well-being into the near future.

  11. You explain the situation quite well, thank you. I still think it’s grossly unfair and just plain greedy.

    I am a Direct TV customer and also spend a nice chunk of money on my MLB Extra Innings package. I’m paying a premium to watch my favorite team (Red Sox). I live in New Jersey (the New York market). When the Red Sox play the Yankees, my MLB Extra Innings Red Sox broadcast gets “blacked out,” and my only option is the Yankees’ “YES Network.” Why on Earth would I want to listen to their slant on things? I’m paying a premium for that? I understand about protecting the regional networks, but people that pay a premium should not be punished. I just end up watching the game with no volume.

    I pay so much money for this stuff. The package should deliver 100% of the Red Sox broadcasts. This rule needs to change. It’s a greedy ripoff.

  12. So, why don’t Regional Sports Networks offer their own streaming package, and lets us buy it to watch local games? That way they still get money from us, and maintain the opportunity to have us watch their other programming, and maintain our likelihood of watching commercials. Rather than pay for MLB packages, why can’t we just pay to watch the RSN? With cord cutting, this is a logical solution.

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