TV Answer Man, I am a Dish customer who has suffered through nearly 2 years of the Fox/Sinclair RSN contract dispute. My team is the Cincinnati Reds, and tonight’s game vs. the Giants will air on MLB Network. However, due to MLB’s local blackout rules, the game will not air in my area. Why is the game on MLBN blacked out when I don’t even receive the channel on which it would normally air? This is super frustrating! I hope you can provide a clear answer. — Travis, Huntington, West Virginia. 

Travis, Major League Baseball’s blackout rules are so arcane and seemingly arbitrary that they could test the patience of the Dalai Lama! But let me try to explain why you couldn’t watch last night’s game on Dish to help ease your inner torment.

As you know, Major League Baseball blackouts a game on the MLB Network if it’s available on a local channel, such as your regional sports channel. But in your case, Dish does not carry Bally Sports Ohio (or any Bally Sports channel owned by Sinclair Broadcasting), the TV home of the Cincinnati Reds. So it would seem reasonable to argue that the MLB Network broadcast should not be blacked out, right?

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Well, it may be reasonable, but it’s not how the blackouts work. MLB still requires the game to be blacked out on Dish’s MLB Network broadcast even though you can’t get Bally Sports Ohio. The rational is to help Sinclair/Bally Sports pressure Dish to carry their channels. If you could watch the Reds on the MLB Network channel, or via the Extra Innings package, there would be less cause for the satcaster to add Bally; it could simply tell subscribers to watch their home team on other channels, or its pay TV package.

But because the game is blacked out on those other channels/plans, Dish subscribers get angry and urge their TV provider to add the regional sports channel that carries it. This is how the MLB Network blackout is designed to help Bally Sports.

And why does the league side with Bally over Dish, and its subscribers? Because Sinclair, the owner of the Bally Sports channels, pays the league a handsome sum for the rights to carry their games. MLB executives will always put their financial partners ahead of the fans. The league’s position is that fans should switch to a TV provider that does carry the regional sports channel if they want to watch their home team.

Travis, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann