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It’s possible cord-cutters could stream MLB games in-market in 2020

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This is important news for all baseball fans, but especially for Cubs fans.

There’s been a lot going on in Major League Baseball this offseason including early free-agent signings, the proposed gutting of the minor leagues and the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal among them.

Thus it would have been easy to miss — I did — this article by Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports posted Friday. The first three paragraphs tell the story:

As part of his opening statement to reporters at Major League Baseball’s owners meetings this week, commissioner Rob Manfred said that teams had “approved unanimously a revised interactive media rights agreement.”

It was a jumbled bit of jargon that was easy to miss between the confirmation that the Kansas City Royals had a new ownership group and the part of the press conference where Manfred evaded questions about the sign-stealing investigation into the Astros organization. This winter is rife already with impactful storylines, existential threats to the game, and even some free-agent signings. It’s easy to ignore a change to the back-end business side of baseball. But this one might have direct implications for fans.

Asked to clarify what exactly the “revised interactive media rights agreement” looks like, Manfred said, “The biggest single change was the return of certain in-market digital rights — the rights that have essentially become substitutional with broadcast rights — those rights will return to the clubs.”

“Jumbled bit of jargon” is right. What this means, essentially, is that it is possible that teams will be able to offer over-the-top (meaning, not attached to a cable or satellite subscription) streaming of their games in their local broadcast territory.

If this happens, it means Cubs fans who live in Illinois, Indiana or Iowa and are shut out of the Marquee Network because their cable/satellite provider hasn’t made a deal with the network would be able to buy an online streaming package directly from the Cubs or MLB that would allow them to watch the games on their computer, tablet or smartphone.

There is, as of now, no concrete proposal out there for this or how much it would cost. Over the last couple of seasons, the Cubs (and other teams) have been able to offer in-market streaming for people who had a subscription to NBC Sports Chicago via their cable or satellite subscription, and likely there will be a similar option for those who do wind up with the Marquee Network via cable or satellite.

But it sounds like an OTT streaming option could be in effect for the 2020 season. Stay tuned, as they say in the biz.