Q. I read that Major League Baseball is doing away with blackouts and letting the teams sell their games on streaming instead of just cable. This is great for a cord-cutter like myself. Can you explain how this will work on MLB.TV and the rest? — Sandy, Jacksonville, Florida.
Sandy, I’m sorry to inform you that there will still be blackouts this season on MLB.TV, the league’s online package of out-of-market games. There has been some erroneous reporting on this subject so let me explain further.
MLB recently announced that it’s returning the digital (streaming) game rights to the teams. (Previously, the league controlled the rights.)
Some journalists and fans have interpreted this decision to mean that the teams this season will offer their games in-market via streaming without requiring a pay TV subscription from cable, satellite or a live streaming service such as YouTube TV.
However, the problem with that analysis is that the teams are still bound by contracts with the regional sports channels which are carried by the pay TV operators. Under the contracts, the teams can not offer their games to another in-market service because it would reduce the value of those contracts if fans could watch the games on something other than the regional sports channel.
Each team’s contract with a regional sports channel has a different term, meaning some might last several more years while others could end in the next year or so. So it’s highly unlikely that every team will be able to offer all their games via a separate streaming service anytime soon. And it’s highly unlikely that any team will do that this year, or perhaps even next.
When the contracts expire, the teams will then have the right to negotiate different deals that could permit in-market streaming without a pay TV subscription. In that scenario, you could foresee a team offering their games on a separate app, as HBO does with HBO Now, for something like $89 a year But until those RSN deals expire, don’t hold your breath.
Some articles have also suggested that MLB.TV will waive the in-market blackout rule this season so a cord-cutter could subscribe to the online package and watch their home team.
(MLB.TV has blacked out in-market games to protect the regional sports channels which has agreed to pay the league huge sums for the local broadcast rights. If the in-market games were available on MLB.TV, fewer people would watch the regional sports channel.)
However, that is also not true. The league clearly states on the MLB.TV home page that the in-market blackout rule is still in effect. As in the case of the local streaming rights, MLB.TV is motivated to protect the regional sports channels so it will uphold the in-market blackout.
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— Phillip Swann