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Fox, MLB To Increase Saturday Blackouts

This map really doesn't have anything to do with this story, but I love showing how MLB has carved up its TV fiefdoms.

This Sporting News article, one that kind of slipped in under the radar, indicates that Fox and MLB are going to be increasing the number of Saturday night prime-time games this year.

Why is this a bad thing? Read on:

Fox plans to make five or six games available in prime time, instead of the three it usually has in its afternoon slot, USA Today reports. Last season, Fox broadcasted three times on Saturday night during the regular season and saw a big jump in ratings from its Saturday afternoon games.

Notwithstanding the clunky word "broadcasted" ("broadcast" would work just as well), this means that far more people will be blacked out of seeing their favorite team. This 1970s-style regionalization of televised baseball ignores the fact that the modern fan is used to -- most of the time -- being able to see his or her favorite team on TV, on a computer, and on iPads and other mobile devices.

Wait till you see what a Fox executive said about this.

Fox Sports co-president and COO Eric Shanks said that the Saturday night "action prompted Fox to raise ad sales rates by about 30 percent." He added that he wants to capture the Saturday night audience and build a "Baseball Night in America—we want to eventize it."

More clunky language. "Eventize"? Ugh.

The point is, baseball is a regional sport -- but if Fox wants to make a "Baseball Night In America" (I suppose, similar to NBC's "Football Night in America"), regionalizing it is exactly the wrong way to do it.

People are accustomed to seeing their favorite team no matter where they live. In fact, MLB even markets its MLB.TV product that way:

Signups are under way for MLB.TV 2012, and Dan Nesbitt has been eagerly awaiting this moment like so many other Major League Baseball fans who watch live out-of-market games anywhere.

Nesbitt is a 25-year-old Tigers fan transplanted in Pittsburgh, where he performs with the Steel City Brass, musicians who play in symphonies worldwide.

"I'm a diehard Tigers fan, and since moving out of state several years ago, MLB.TV has allowed me to keep up with the games," said Nesbitt, whose wife promised him the 2012 package as a birthday present on Tuesday. "I travel quite a bit, all over the country, and with my mobile devices, I'm able to access that account anywhere, which is absolutely the most valuable thing about MLB.TV, and worth every penny of the subscription."

Well, that all sounds great -- except when the Tigers get blacked out where Nesbitt is. What if he's traveling on a Saturday night, and the Tigers are involved in one of the regionalized games, but they're not being televised by the Fox-TV affiliate wherever he happens to be?

Right. He's out of luck. Blacked out, Nesbitt isn't likely to watch the game that's on in his market -- he's a Tigers fan. He'd probably listen to the Detroit game on his computer, and not watch the televised game at all.

Bud Selig, this one's on you. STOP THE BLACKOUTS! This doesn't even take into account the silly territories that are indicated on the map that's at the top of this post. Here, I'm only talking about Fox's Saturday blackouts.

The point of them, from what I understand, is to protect the local and national advertising on the Fox affiliate. Technologically, it would be easy to insert the ads into an online broadcast of the game the individual wants. Say, for example, you're a Cubs fan in Los Angeles on a Saturday night when Fox is carrying regional games, but the Cubs aren't being carried in LA. It would be simple for someone with a MLB.TV subscription to get the Cubs game, with the commercials from LA's Fox station inserted.

Eyeballs counted, the overall ratings would be higher (and ad rates would rise). The Cubs fan in question isn't going to watch the game on the LA Fox station -- he or she would just turn the TV off, and MLB doesn't get the ratings from those people, nor the money that people like that would pay for MLB.TV... IF Bud and his minions would let people watch any game, any time, any place, that they are willing to pay for.

The Cubs will be involved in three of these Saturday night games in 2012: May 19 vs. the White Sox at Wrigley, June 2 vs. the Giants at San Francisco and June 16 vs. the Red Sox at Wrigley. Given the statement above that "five or six" games will be regionalized on Fox Saturday nights, good luck seeing them unless you live in one of the home markets.

Bud, it's not 1974 any more. END THE BLACKOUTS. It is amazing to me that MLB continues to make it difficult for people who actually want to buy its TV product, to do so.