Major League Baseball began taking orders for MLB.TV, its online package of out-of-market games, on February 4. The price was $121.99 and it came with a refund clause that didn’t seem unfair at the time:
“For MLB.TV or MLB Audio, MLB.com will honor a refund request made within 5 days of your first subscription purchase date or the automatic renewal date in connection with an MLB season.”
In other words, if you ordered on February 4, or beyond, you had five days from the date of the order to cancel and get a full refund. That’s a decent interval to accommodate those who develop sticker shock after their purchase.
But, of course, life has changed since February 4. MLB has suspended the start of the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus outbreak and it’s uncertain when or if it will begin. While the league fiddles with multiple proposals to play a virus-shortened season, perhaps beginning as early as late May, fans have no certainty there will ever be a 2020 campaign.
That’s why Major League Baseball should, and must, offer full refunds immediately to everyone who ordered a MLB.TV package prior to the announcement that play would be suspended. It’s the right thing to do. (Note: The league suspended play on March 12, five weeks after it began taking orders for MLB.TV.)
Pay TV providers, such as DIRECTV and Dish, have a clause in their out-of-market plans (called MLB Extra Innings) that permit refunds prior to the opening of the season. MLB should follow the same spirit and allow their MLB.TV subscribers to get refunds because the season hasn’t started, and it may never start.
Fans who ordered MLB.TV in February and March prior to the suspension of play did so believing the season would begin on March 26. But it didn’t. Nor will it on April 26, or perhaps even May 26. MLB.TV subscribers are not getting what they paid for, and the league has a good faith obligation to address that.
Many consumers are now unemployed due to the outbreak and they could use that $121.99 for groceries or other household necessities. It’s immoral for the league to hold onto it just because they can legally.
MLB executives would argue that they still hope to play a complete season, even if it begins as late as June. Consequently, every MLB.TV subscriber will eventually get what they paid for. But as we enter mid-April, the odds that there will be a full season are shrinking. At best, there might be 100 games, which would mean MLB.TV subscribers would certainly not get what they paid for. And that is, a full 162-game season.
If the league does the right thing, and offer full refunds now (without people having to call the league’s 800 number and beg for a refund), I suspect fans would re-subscribe once the season does begin. However, if the league maintains its hardline stance, it will alienate many of its best fans, those who are willing to pay top dollar to watch more games via MLB.TV.
Major League Baseball, it’s your turn at bat. Do the right thing and hit one out of the park for your fans, and your country.
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— Phillip Swann