Many of us, myself included, have wondered whether Major League Baseball would lift its local TV blackouts during whatever the 2020 season turns out to be.
We’re not the only ones. The question was raised by Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic:
If baseball comes back and every game is played without fans in the stands, will MLB waive the television/streaming blackout rules?— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) June 12, 2020
It would be even more absurd than usual if, say, someone in Iowa still can't watch the Twins when going to Target Field literally isn't an option.
Let’s be clear: Blackout rules weren’t instituted for the purpose of getting fans to go to the ballpark. They were created so that you, the viewer, would call your cable/satellite provider and beg them to carry the regional sports network that covers your team’s games, to protect the RSN’s broadcast rights. This is very 1990s thinking and should have been dumped years ago, but here we are:
Sorry — I’m never, ever going to give up the opportunity to post this ridiculous map when I get the chance.
Now that you’re up to speed on the rather silly reasons for blackouts in the modern TV age, here’s the answer for 2020, in reply to Aaron Gleeman’s question:
I asked about this last month and was told they will not.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) June 12, 2020
This... this, I can’t even speak. Does Major League Baseball even understand how fans want to consume the sport? Or that there’s a worldwide pandemic that most likely is going to prevent any fans from seeing their team in person this year? This is one of the most remarkably tone-deaf decisions I can imagine. Here’s a chance for MLB to reach out to fans and say, “Hey, we get it, we’re all in a unique situation, you can all watch baseball without blackout this year!” Beyond the good-will gesture, it would certainly increase viewership and thus, eyeballs on ads. Sponsors should be banging down MLB’s door begging them to lift local blackouts.
Beyond all this, there’s the specific case for us as Cubs fans. As of now, their new TV partner, Marquee Sports Network, is on providers in only about 40 percent of the Cubs’ market territory (see the map above). The exception is Comcast, who covers more than 50 percent of the market area. Marquee absolutely wants to make a deal with Comcast. Granted, there has been less urgency to do so over the last few months with no games to show, but hopefully once MLB and the MLBPA can end their nonsensical bickering and create a schedule, Marquee and Comcast will sign a contract. At that point, over 90 percent of Cubs fans in the market area will be able to see games and smaller providers will likely fall in line.
If they don’t? What a mess. Sure, Cubs fans outside the market area will be able to watch via MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings, but that would create a weird dynamic where Cubs fans in (say) Alaska could watch games, but fans in Chicago (myself included, since I’m a Comcast subscriber) couldn’t.
There’s still a mess in Los Angeles, too. The Dodgers’ channel SportsNet LA did sign a deal with DirecTV this past April, but there are still a number of major L.A.-area providers who don’t carry the channel:
... the deal does not include several other pay-TV providers in the area, including Frontier, Cox, and Dish Network. Their customers remain without SportsNet LA.
This should be a no-brainer, team owners, in a year like no other. Lift the blackouts. Let fans watch your games. The goodwill you’d generate would be worth it.
Because maintaining the blackouts in a year where nothing’s normal will just deepen the hole you’re digging for yourself.