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A Lesson For Baseball

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Are you into the NCAA basketball tournament?

I thought so.

Did you know that you can watch ANY of the first 56 games -- all through the regional semifinals -- FREE at ncaasports.com? The only blackout restrictions are that if a game is on CBS in your area, you can't watch it online:

Local blackout rules will limit availability to 37 games for most people during the 2006 NCAA® Men's Basketball Tournament.

But still, that would give you, in theory at least, the chance to watch at least part of every single tournament game, if you were so inclined, and it is a real boon for far-flung fans of various college teams who are stuck in areas where the local CBS affiliate isn't carrying their favorite school's game.

And how are they doing this? Well, among other things, advertisers have signed up:

Such heavyweights as Dell, State Farm, Pontiac, Lowe's and Courtyard Marriott have signed on for the Webcasts, which allowed CBS SportsLine to take the logical next step -- show the games for free.

This makes too much sense for a stuck-in-the-last-century organization like MLB to emulate. No, instead we get arcane blackout rules that won't let you watch your favorite team if you're away from home, because your credit card billing zip code prevents that, and prevents virtually ALL of us from watching spring training games.

If they had any sense, they'd let us watch the spring training games free and sign up some advertisers for the online-only portions. This would be a great come-on for buying the package for the season.

Instead, you have to sign up and pay for at least one month of MLB.TV to get the spring games. Now, for some of you, that might be worth it -- but if you live in the Chicago area where all the Cubs games are on TV, either broadcast or cable, or if you have a digital cable or satellite package allowing you to get most of the games once the season begins, why would you do this? I won't.

But if I could watch the spring games free -- well, maybe I'd buy something, and if there were advertisers exclusively for such things, at least they'd be getting more eyeballs. And isn't that the whole point? Further, MLB could have done the same thing for the WBC, since all of the games are being carried by ESPN Deportes. Sure, it'd have been in Spanish, but at least the games could have been exposed to a wider audience.

Until MLB gets its marketing head out of the sand, organizations like the NCAA, who think outside the lines, will get more viewers, and not coincidentally, make more money, than baseball.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the NCAA's online games, you should probably register for one of their free VIP passes. That page gives the impression that you'll get better service for the online casts if you do.