Q. I am very excited about the baseball season coming back this week after the All-Star break. But I live in the LA area and I’m tired of not being able to watch my Dodgers at home on TV. Isn’t there any way to watch my team without subscribing to Charter? — Penelope, Venice, California

Penelope, you are right. The 2019 Major League Baseball season resumes tonight after this week’s All-Star Game break.

And, as you note, many fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers still can’t watch their favorites at home due to a fee fight between SportsNet LA and the major pay TV operators in your market.

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SportsNet LA, which airs the Dodgers games, has been unable to persuade anyone besides Charter (which has the management rights) to carry the channel. The TV services claim the carriage fees are too high.

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Of course, MLB.TV, the league’s online package of out-of-market games, carries the Dodgers games, but they are blacked out in the Los Angeles area. You can watch other MLB games on MLB.TV if you live in LA, but not the Dodgers.

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Doesn’t seem fair, you say. Well, there’s a solution for all fans, not just those in Los Angeles, to avoid Major League League blackouts regardless of where you live.

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.

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You probably don’t need me to tell you what’s next. If you live in LA, you could use your VPN to say you live overseas. Then, you could subscribe to the MLB.TV online package (mid-season price: $82.99) and watch your local team because the the IP address wouldn’t say LA.

(Normally, MLB.TV would be required to blackout the Dodgers in the LA market because SportsNet LA has the exclusive regional rights. But in this case, MLB.TV wouldn’t know you live in that market.)

Fans in other markets could use a VPN to watch their local teams via MLB.TV as well rather than subscribing to a local cable TV or satellite service.

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.

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 7-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 2019.’

Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvpredictions.com. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann