TV Answer Man, I read your article today on MLB blackouts and the regional sports networks maybe going out of business. My question to you is this. Is there currently any way to avoid blackouts without getting a subscription to a TV provider that has the regional sports channel? I don’t want to be a sneak but is there a clever way to just watch your hometown team without having to pay a fortune to someone?? — Bob, Lima, Ohio.
Bob, earlier today, I wrote that Major League Baseball might eliminate in-market blackouts of teams now on Bally Sports and the AT&T-named regional sports networks if the league is forced to take back the RSN broadcast rights due to bankruptcy (Bally) or a company policy change (the AT&T channels, which are owned by the cost-cutting Warner Bros. Discovery).
It’s unclear if either scenario will occur so the question now is whether you can avoid in-market blackouts of all teams (not just those on Bally and AT&T) on MLB TV. That’s the league’s online package of (now) out-of-market games which costs $149.
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The answer is yes. You can avoid in-market blackouts on MLB TV by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The VPN is 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 Scottsdale, Arizona, you could insert an IP address supplied by the VPN company that would say you live in Denmark. Then, you could subscribe to the MLB.TV online package and watch the Diamondbacks on Bally Sports Arizona because the the IP address wouldn’t say Scottsdale.
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“IF YOU CIRCUMVENT, OR ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT, ANY BLACKOUT RESTRICTION OR OTHER USE RESTRICTION: YOUR SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATE TERMINATION AND A CHARGE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) FOR EARLY TERMINATION; YOU MAY BE SUBJECT TO LEGAL ACTION; AND MLB RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REPORT SUCH MISCONDUCT TO APPROPRIATE LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES.”
However, note that the language does not specifically refer to VPNs and, until last year, the league had never discussed specifically whether it opposes VPN or has ever taken legal action against subscribers who have used them to watch their home teams on MLB.TV.
So a year ago, I asked a MLB spokesperson three questions regarding VPNs and MLB.TV:
1. Is MLB opposed to the use of VPNs to watch MLB.TV?
2. Has MLB ever sued a MLB TV subscriber for using a VPN?
3. Has MLB ever sought criminal charges against a MLB TV subscriber for using a VPN?
After four separate inquiries over a week, the spokesperson finally answered:
1. No comment.
For the first time, MLB acknowledged it had never tried to sue or prosecute anyone for VPN use and the league didn’t even have a position on whether it opposes the use of VPNs.
This certainly runs counter to the public perception that MLB is trying to crack down on VPN use and is prepared to use the courts when necessary. This is not to suggest that MLB is saying you should use a VPN. (The pay TV services that pay handsomely to carry regional sports channels wouldn’t appreciate that. If everyone used a VPN for MLB TV, they wouldn’t need to subscribe to the pay TV services.) But the league certainly isn’t telling you not to use a VPN.
It’s fair to surmise that MLB executives have concluded they wouldn’t win in civil or criminal court if they tried to prevent the use of VPNs to watch MLB TV. But there’s another possible reason why they haven’t gone to court. The league generates revenue from VPN users that they otherwise would not get. A subscription is a subscription.
The league even refers to their 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.)
In the past when addressing this topic, I’ve noted there’s also an ethical question here. By using a VPN, you are clearly attempting to “circumvent” a blackout restriction, which is against the MLB TV rules. But the league’s current neutral stance on VPN use would seem to soften that concern.
Before you start searching for a VPN, however, allow me to caution that I am not an attorney and this article does not constitute legal advice in any way, shape or form. But I think this new information is very valuable to cord-cutters anxious to watch their home team during the 2023 season.
Bob, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann