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MLB’s in-market streaming deals have expired. What does it mean for you, the Cubs fan?

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MLB and its TV partners are feuding again.

For many years, Cubs fans were blacked out from watching games on their phones, tablets or laptops if they were inside the team’s market territory, even if they had a cable or satellite subscription. So were fans of almost all other teams.

This was remedied within the last few years, as MLB and its RSN partners signed deals to allow in-market streaming if you authenticated through a cable or satellite provider. This was quite useful to such a subscriber if you weren’t at home but wanted to log in and watch a Cubs game on your phone.

Uh-oh:

To the shock of everyone, according to the Sports Business Journal, MLB wants more money from the RSNs for the streaming rights, and they want the in-market streaming deals to run as long as the linear TV deals that each RSN has with its MLB teams. Understandably, the RSNs aren’t taking this lying down, claiming that the in-market streaming rights are built in to every other package of media rights they purchase and shouldn’t need to bought separately, and that the length of these contracts shouldn’t be as long as the linear TV deals because of how much the media landscape changes (and, of course, because it’s tough to make money off of the streaming deals).

Gee. More money. What a surprise. As if paying for a cable subscription wasn’t expensive enough these days. With streaming options for many other types of TV, live sports is one of the few ways cable and satellite operators keep their subscribers, because due to the blackout rules, it’s the only way fans can watch games in-market. Or in the case of the Dodgers, they can’t, but that’s another story. The Dodgers, Nationals and Orioles were the only three teams without an in-market streaming deal for 2018, and the latter two teams’ issue is part of a long-standing dispute between the teams regarding MASN, the local RSN in the Baltimore/Washington area. (That’s also a long story, too much to get into here.)

From the SBJ article, here’s the likely reason for this dispute:

As the pay-TV industry continues to lose subscribers and media companies launch over-the-top services, streaming rights become more valuable. The original MLB in-market streaming deals were solely on an authenticated basis and required a traditional cable or satellite subscription for access. A key question going forward is whether a standalone offering might ultimately emerge.

Ah. So at some point, if the parties can come to an agreement, you might be able to buy a subscription to your favorite team’s games without a cable/satellite subscription. Here we see a possible solution for a future Cubs network and how it might make money. You’d pay for that if you didn’t subscribe to cable/satellite, right?

The Awful Announcing article linked above (also here) concludes:

It would be a short-sighted bit of absolute madness for MLB and the RSNs to not get a deal done. Imagine being a fan and having a reliable streaming option for your team over the past couple of seasons…and then going into 2019 without any option at all. It would be infuriating, and would do far more damage to MLB and its RSNs than they might realize. But then again, this is Major League Baseball we’re talking about – taking one step forward and two steps back is a tradition steeped in the history of the game. Giving fans a taste of in-market streaming and then taking it away (while the NHL and NBA do no such thing) would be patently absurd, and yet, we’re still talking about it.

All in all, I still think a deal gets done before the season starts. After all, it’s the best thing for everyone involved. But the sale of the Fox RSNs can throw a massive wrench into things – if the sale drags on close to the start of the MLB season, or if a buyer with zero experience in the sports world (venture capital firms…hello), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a new agreement wasn’t in place by the start of the season.

Well, that wouldn’t be optimal for anyone. To be clear, this would not affect you if you are watching at home via a cable/satellite subscription, or if you live outside the Cubs’ market territory and watch via a MLB.tv subscription. You’d still be able to do that.

But in-market streaming has been a great service for fans when they’re out and about, and more people are watching games via phone or tablet anyway these days. Let’s hope MLB and the RSN’s come to their senses before Opening Day 2019 and make a deal.