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MLB has made a hire that could eventually lead to the elimination of blackouts

It’s a step in the right direction.

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Major League Baseball today announced the hire of Billy Chambers as Executive Vice President, Local Media. Chambers previously worked as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer of the 21 regional sports networks acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group from Disney and before that, he spent 20 years with FOX Sports Media Group where he ascended to the position of Chief Financial Officer.

Why is this important to you, the baseball fan? John Ourand explains in this Sports Business Journal article:

This hire is the clearest sign that MLB has decided that it needs to take a more active role in producing and distributing its games. Baseball execs believe that it will gain control over many of those rights controlled by Diamond Sports, which has been mired in financial troubles and last month installed former ESPN and NBC Sports exec David Preschlack as CEO. MLB expects it will get control of other rights — ones held by Comcast and Warner Bros. Discovery — soon after. MLB already has started looking into creating a national product that would combine its local rights with its out-of-market Extra Innings package — an effort that would do away with blackouts.

Ah, ha. That last sentence is the key. It’s been obvious for quite some time that this map:

mlb territorial map

... is an outdated vestige of a 1980s/1990s business model that no longer reflects the way that fans watch baseball. Cord-cutting has ramped up in recent years and the idea that a fan in (say) Iowa should lobby his or her cable/satellite provider to carry a RSN that covers a MLB team’s games is outmoded. People want to be able to watch games on streaming providers, or perhaps standalone streaming products from individual teams, something the Cubs have been looking into since last year and something that’s already available for some MLB teams.

This is the strongest sign yet that MLB has acknowledged the way fans want to consume baseball on TV and (hopefully) it will happen sometime in 2023, or soon after. The Cubs have reportedly been looking into an over-the-top streaming service for nearly a year; it still could happen this season.

As always, we await developments.