Several days ago, prompted by some posts made here about the difficulties many of you have had with MLB.TV, and the continuing saga of Saturday TV blackouts, I decided to use today's off day to write further about MLB's Stone Age TV policy.
Serendipitously, Yahoo's Jeff Passan wrote yesterday on this very topic, telling us that MLB has at least begun to wake up; later this summer, MLB president & COO Bob DuPuy is going to require all MLB teams to redefine their TV "territories" or, according to Passan, "risk losing them".
To which all I can say is, about freaking time. If you haven't seen the MLB television territorial map, here it is:
Look real closely at that map. From a 2008 perspective, it makes zero sense. Why should Iowa be carved up by six different teams (Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins, Brewers, and Royals)? Those of you who live in Iowa know exactly what I'm talking about. Passan explains the 1960's era territorial policy:
Back then, MLB had 20 teams and little television coverage beyond the postseason. Territorial rights were analog endowments carried into the digital age, and while in some cases they still apply – the Red Sox own a legitimate claim to the entirety of New England with regional-sports network NESN’s ubiquity there, and the Yankees and Mets are big enough draws for the YES Network and SportsNet New York to stretch across their territories, and perhaps beyond – most should be up for grabs.
Is Des Moines a Twins territory? Do the White Sox have a genuine claim? Why not the Royals? They’re closest. The Cubs are the most popular, the Cardinals traditionally the most successful, the Brewers currently the best. If nothing else, the re-written territorial-rights map could give teams incentive to actively pursue areas such as Iowa and Las Vegas and draw new fans instead of relying on what they inherited. The forgotten would turn into the recruited.
Well, yes and no. It all depends on how they redraw this map. Example: there are, as you likely have already figured, more Cubs fans scattered across the country than, say, Tampa Bay Rays fans. Thus, the Rays want to "protect" their "territory" in Florida so they get their games watched.
The reality, however, is that if you're a Cubs fan living in Tampa and you can't watch the Cubs, you're more likely to not watch ANY game, not watch the Rays just because they're on. The reasons for this should be obvious (well, obvious to any intelligent person, but that phrase -- "intelligent person" -- seems to be totally absent from MLB management): first, just because you live in a certain area doesn't mean you want to watch the games of that team, if you are loyal to another; and second, the simple fact that you are being forced to do so angers you enough so that even though you may love baseball, you might not watch the local game simply out of spite.
Jeff Passan says there's hope for the future, and partly because of the Extra Innings near-debacle of last year, where fan outrage got Congress involved, and maybe woke baseball management up:
Baseball is well-versed enough in compromise to figure out ways to satiate both the owners and public. Fans already give up most Saturday afternoon games to the blackout Fox bought so it could have exclusivity. It isn’t fair. It is business, and the financial prosperity derived from TV contracts and other media rights has helped baseball avoid work stoppages for consecutive collective-bargaining agreements. The trade is worth it.
Most promising is baseball listening to its public. During the MLB Extra Innings debacle last year, in which baseball held cable companies hostage by threatening not to offer them the package unless they put the Baseball Channel on basic digital cable, MLB ignored the outcries of its fans and instead chased a buck. Cable companies didn’t and bowed to MLB’s request, thus ensuring the Baseball Channel the largest launch in cable history.This time, it was different. You wrote the letters. You lodged the complaints. You hammered home the inanity of it all.
Inanity is right. I've written this many times, but now is a good time to say it again: the proper policy is a very simple one. If you are willing to pay to watch a specific game, you should be able to, no matter where you are located. If they're worried about local commercials -- well, there are technological ways to, say, insert Tampa-area commercials into a Cubs telecast if you are watching on Extra Innings or MLB.TV. On EI, you frequently see a "We'll Be Right Back" screen between innings on some games. Cable or satellite companies could have commercials local to wherever you are inserted instead. Also, fiascos like yesterday's Cubs game, where WGN-TV lost its video feed for a couple of innings, could also be avoided. Cub fans watching on EI via FSN Pittsburgh (or on MLB.TV) could see the game -- but only if they were NOT in the Cub "territory", presenting the bizarre scenario of everyone NOT in Chicago being able to see those innings.
Seriously, how hard is that? It's win-win. Fans would get to watch the games they want. Advertisers would get more eyeballs. What's not to like?
It's time for MLB to acknowledge that television and Internet technology are moving far faster than policy. Wake up, Bud. Hear your fans -- I remind you that we are your best customers!! Please us and maybe you'll find you can make even more money. (That is, after all, what this is all about, right?)
We can now have real hope that by next year, when the Baseball Channel is supposed to launch, that every fan, everywhere, can watch any game he or she wishes. Bud, make it so.