Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baseball, territorial rights and YOU: Why I'm the only satisfied out of market baseball fan

I originally started out writing a lengthy diatribe on the history of the antiquated territorial blackout system used by Major League Baseball. It was pointless and boring, so I scrapped it. Suffice to say, the system was created for the time of "bunny ear" TV's, low Western population density, and localized urban centers. While the system isn't all bad (It does throw up a legal and financial roadblock to franchise movement), it's pointless in the age of instant communication and streaming video. In the particular territory, you are expected to watch home team games on television, whether its available or not. Combine that with the monopoly that DirecTV holds on the satellite TV packages, and many baseball fans get left in the dark.

(Above, the MLB blackout map. Seriously, try to make sense of that.)

Which brings me to MLB.TV. When I moved from Chicago to Colorado oh so many years ago, I was able, through the magic of the internet, to bring my beloved White Sox with me. MLB.TV allows live streaming viewing of any game baseball game you want on your computer... as long as you observe those pesky blackout restrictions. Works great for me, since Colorado is not the White Sox territory. However, it can royally suck for other transplants. The poor saps in Las Vegas and Iowa, still struggling to make sense of the blackout map, can't even use access paths like MLB.TV (or the DirecTV package) to follow baseball completely. They're stuck in '80s territorial hell.

Let's say you are a Rockies fan who, for job reasons, moves to Las Vegas. If you purchased either the internet or DirecTV baseball packages, you would, theoretically, be able to follow every game. And you could... as long as the game you wanted to watch didn't involve either the Giants, A's, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, or Diamondbacks. See, even though those 6 teams claim Las Vegas as in their territory, none of their TV partners show games there. But since those teams claim Vegas, games involving those teams are "blacked-out" for out of market viewing options. Since most of those teams are in division, in the example you would be unable to watch 75 Rox games this season, or just shy of 50% of the season, even with a DirecTV or MLB.TV subscription.

It's a bullshit system that needs to be adapted. In the past few years, soon to be outgoing baseball commissioner Bud Selig has told owners that a new system is coming, and that they are going to have to give up some of their previously claimed territory. But for now, the only option baseball gives many fans across the country is to watch pirated streams, which, in turn, costs baseball money. Fans want to give baseball their money so that they can follow their favorite teams, but baseball is currently just shrugging its shoulders.

Just today, I re-upped my MLB.TV subscription. I love it. The streams are high quality, allow for DVR capability, and are a relative bargain. But, for many its a pointless option until baseball changes their antiquated territorial division.

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