By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, in spring training I remember reading stories that Major League Baseball would do games for free this year on MLB TV with no blackouts because of the regional sports channels falling apart. What happened to that?! — Jamal, Galveston, Texas.
Jamal, your memory is accurate, but unfortunately, the stories were not. Ot at least, the concept that Major League Baseball would provide free baseball on MLB TV without blackouts was not accurate. Or sensible. Let me explain.
The New York Post reported on March 12 that Diamond Sports, which declared bankruptcy that month, was “expected” to reject the broadcast agreements with at least four MLB teams because they were not profitable. When that occurred, the league would take over the broadcasts and stream them for free in-market, the story added.
“Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will have the league take over the local broadcasts of the money-losing teams and stream them for free in their respective local markets as he negotiates with their cable companies for lower contracts, a source with knowledge of the discussions said,” the New York Post wrote.
The Post article triggered a slew of stories from other publications with headlines such as ‘MLB Will Stream Games For Free in Areas With Failed RSNs, ‘MLB Will Reportedly Stream Games for Free in Some Markets,’ and ‘MLB Will Reportedly Stream Games for Free Should Bally Sports Renege on TV Rights Deals.’
The TV Answer Man was a bit more skeptical about the possibility of free games without blackouts, running this headline and article: ‘The Regional Sports Network Crisis: Could Some Games Be Streamed For Free?’
Now let’s cut to the present.
Diamond Sports has actually rejected the contract of only one team, the San Diego Padres, on May 30. Major League Baseball took over the Padres broadcasts the next day, but…did not offer the games for free. The league instead began selling them in-market on MLB TV for $74.99 for the season.
The RSN company also filed a motion in bankruptcy court to reject the Arizona Diamondbacks contract but has since notified the court that it’s in ‘positive discussions’ to keep the agreement. The court has set a July 17 hearing on the matter.
And Diamond Sports has made its regular payments to other teams that were “expected” to be rejected, such as the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Guardians.
The stories from March, including the New York Post report, have not aged well, as the saying goes these days.
Despite the buzz from four months ago, Diamond Sports is planning to emerge from bankruptcy court as a profitable business but with as many team contracts in tow as possible. That’s why it paid the Twins, Guardians and Rangers and is trying to keep the Diamondbacks.
And Major League Baseball would have been crazy to offer games for free. For instance, in the case of the Padres, that would have further reduced the team’s revenue which has already taken a hit from the loss of the Diamond Sports rejection. (MLB this year plans to make up the Padres loss up to 80 percent by pulling funds from the league’s general fund. But next year is uncertain.)
There’s another old saying: Every penny counts. The league and the Padres need those $74.99 subs on MLB TV. And if Diamond Sports eventually does reject the Diamondbacks deal, MLB will sell their games, too.
The idea that MLB would give away something it can make money from just never made sense.
Jamal, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann