I Really Had a Blackout

Saturday….

For most, it’s the best of all days. You don’t have to go back to work for about 48 hours, time to take in some games. You love baseball. You either moved away from where your favorite team resides, you live in a market that doesn’t have a club, or you’re a fanatic and want to watch as many games as you can.

You went out and bought an out-of-market package to “catch all the action”. You either doled the bucks out for MLB Extra Innings for television, or MLB.TV for computer, and if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you purchased MLB.com’s At Bat 2010… maybe you’re whacked and have more than one, or possibly all these packages.

And it’s Saturday afternoon, and you decide that you want to watch some other game than what is being broadcast on FOX.  To your surprise, it’s blacked out.

Sunday evening, you decide to try again….  Blacked out due to ESPN.

And, depending on your location, you can be blacked out of 1, 2… up to 6 clubs in some locations during the week.

Is it any wonder that the #1 customer service call to MLB centers on its blackout policy? You think of kicking the TV, but you really want to kick yourself for making the purchase before reading the fine print, or someone with the league.

The problem is nothing new. Here we are with the 2010 season nearly complete, and there is no end in sight for MLB’s convoluted, arcane, and, many would say, unwarranted blackout policy. “I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to blackout in those territories,” said MLB President and COO, Bob DuPuy in 2008. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”

2008. And that was after several years of fans, customers, and the media asking, “When are you going to address this issue?”

In 2009, there seemed to be a back door into fans being able to see games in-market, with no blackouts. The problem was (and is) that it costs. On June 24, MLB, YES Network, and CableVision announced that in conjunction with MLB.com, for a one-time fee of $49.95 for the remainder of the 2009 season or $19.95 for any 30-day period thereafter, you could get Yankees games in-market. Just 5 days later, a similar deal was launched by Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres. Both DuPuy, and MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman said at the time in a conference call that this model for in-market streaming would be coming for more and more clubs in the coming months. Having followed the blackout issue in MLB for years, I posed the question to DuPuy, “Is this how MLB plans to deal with the blackout policy?” DuPuy replied that the answer was no, and that the league was still working to address the blackout policy for MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV. To date, the deals with the Yankees and the Padres remain the only in-market streaming packages. According to reports, low subscription rates have plagued both. Whether that is the reason that the league hasn’t branched out, at this point in the season, is unknown.

They say that everyone has a story. If you look at the TV television territory map, or see inside MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV and television blackouts in detail, a large percentage of readers are caught in MLB’s fine print on broadcasts with the out-of-market package at the local and regional level, and everyone that has either MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV gets burned via national blackouts on Saturday, and part of Sunday due to exclusivity agreements with FOX and ESPN.

It’s moved beyond the ridiculous. At least in 2008 there was someone saying that they were trying. The excuse now is likely that the economy. The owners, afraid to relinquish even a cent of revenue, have gone into a bunker mentality. Excuses, excuses… There’s none left. When, oh when, will the league address the blackout policy? Will it take Congress stepping in? Will it take fans turning their back on the packages? The latter seems unlikely. I know I’m hooked. The league has me the wiffles.

Maybe that’s the biggest and most galling part of the blackout policy. The most dedicated fans are the ones getting burned, but many of us are such a mess — addicted — that we take the kicks, and then afterwords,  in the throes of our withdrawal, hate ourselves for putting ourselves through the pain.

Remember when Saturday was the best day of the week?




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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.


38 Responses to “I Really Had a Blackout”

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  1. Matty says:

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. I agree 100%, every week I feel as though i’m wasting $200 that I paid to watch any game I wanted, to be able to watch maybe 2 or 3 games on Saturdays.

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  2. Glanzer says:

    As the baseball genius in my group of friends and co-workers, I’m always asked why there are blackouts and I have never been able to give them a good answer. Apparently there isn’t one.

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    • Jamie says:

      I called about this on opening day last year, when I found myself blacked out of an ESPN broadcast I had taken a day off work to watch. The very patient woman at Major League Baseball who took my call explained that I was blacked out because it was an Orioles game, I was in Orioles territory (despite being 300 miles from Baltimore), and the Orioles had an existing broadcast agreement with a local (Baltimore) station, so ESPN only had the rights to broadcast it outside of “Orioles territory”, so as not to infringe on the Orioles broadcast agreement with the Baltimore station (which may or may not have actually been carrying the game). Oh, and there was nothing MLB could do about it as long as teams have these agreements with local stations. See how easy it is to explain!

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  3. Tim says:

    Iowa City, IA gets blacked out of Twins, White Sox, Cubs, Royals, Brewers, and Milwaukee games. And you though you had it bad?

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    • Luke in MN says:

      I think all of Iowa has it that bad. It’s insane, because it’s not like you can regularly follow all those teams’ games, even if you have the right cable package. It’s almost easier to be a fan of the Diamondbacks or Marlins in Iowa than, say, the Royals or Brewers.

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    • Captain says:

      thats out of control man.

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  4. skyjo says:

    As an Iowan, I get blacked out of both Chicago teams, Minnesota, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. WTF?? I get Comcast Chicago so go ahead and blackout the Chitown games, but six f’in teams? COME ON, MLB! I guess you don’t want me to watch baseball?

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  5. Not David says:

    We’re talking about the sport that insists on sitting on their hands, waiting until something is completely broken before finally addressing it.

    Expect this to get addressed sometime in 2017.

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  6. NEPP says:

    I dont mind the blackouts all that much as it gives me the perfect excuse to not waste my Saturday afternoons watching baseball. This greatly helps keep my relationship healthy as I tend to watch pretty much every other game my team plays during the week. Living outside my team’s home area and getting to watch 120+ games a year (probably closer to 140) is plenty.

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  7. Erik Manning says:

    I’m in Cedar Rapids, and I’m in the same boat with Tim. Iowa is blackout hell. My favorite team is the Cardinals, but because of the blackout I rarely get to watch them. The only teams that are on TV are the White Sox and Cubs, so I’ve adopted the Sox as my second team, who I’ve grown to really like, but it’s stupid I should be stuck with being only able to watch two teams regularly while four other teams are completely blacked out.

    There are ways of circumventing the system, but why should I give my hard-earned money to MLB only to have to cheat the system and run the risk of losing the subscription if I’m caught?

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  8. Sophist says:

    Why don’t the cable/Direct TV providers include the regional sports network in the specific MLB territories?

    When I go to the DE beaches from Philadelphia, I’m in Nats/Orioles/Phillies territory, but the providers only include the MASNs and the Phils game is blacked out on MLB.TV. I use a slingbox when necessary but it’s not reliable.

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  9. Corky says:

    Maybe somebody can explain to me why I always seem to get the secondary game on MLB Network (Comcast, Washington, DC) regardless of whether or not my in-market team is playing in the primary match-up…

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  10. designated quitter says:

    You need to learn to root for a team at least 1000 miles away, or move to Alaska, so everyone is 1000 miles away.

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought you had a drinking problem.

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  11. joeiq says:

    REds, brewers, cubs, cardinals, white sox, royals, twins and maybe some others are all blacked out where I live.

    So I didn’t buy it.

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  12. swheatle says:

    When can these contracts be renegotiated? Are local contracts part of the big, national contract that ESPN and FOX sign? If MLB is serious about MLB.TV being a network, shouldn’t MLB give 1st priority to their own network? The same thing happens with NBA League pass, except their deals with TBS/TNT/ESPN/ABC mean that 3 days of the week are blacked out.
    As a Twins fan in Portland, OR I get to see just about every game except for when they play the Mariners or are on national TV. I feel for those in Iowa who really get shafted.

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  13. John says:

    is the solution as simple as blocking your IP?

    if the answer is ‘yes’, i have one word for you people :

    morons.

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  14. Jon E says:

    Try being a Detroit Tigers’ fan in Iowa, where I live. MLB hoses me w/the mlb.tv package. I miss all the games versus the Twins. All the games versus the Royals are blacked out. The majority of games versus the White Sox. At least 50-games for the Tigers within their division that I can’t get…..gone. For good measure the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals are blacked here as well for when the Tigers play them in interleague-play.

    6 major league clubs blacked out in Iowa. 20% of the league. Funny how I never get a 20% discount! LOL

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  15. skyjo says:

    John. Have you tried this? I believe the blackout region is based on the address of your credit card. When I log into MLB.tv from my laptop using a friend’s sign-in info (who is from Chicago), I do not experience all the Iowa blackouts (even though I am loggin in from Iowa). Thus, I believe we’d all need to get out of state credit cards? That seems like some sort of fraud. Moron.

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    • Gina says:

      My credit card has a GA address and I’m still blacked out for Nats and Orioles games in NC (and Braves games only when I return to Georgia).

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  16. Chris says:

    “# All live Toronto Blue Jays games are blacked out throughout the entire country of Canada.
    # Additional teams may also be subject to blackout in parts of Canada based on their region.`

    So if you live in Vancouver and are a Jays fan, your options are

    1) take a 5 hour flight
    2) take a 2.5 day drive (or 45 hours if you dont want to sleep or eat)

    Good job MLB!

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    • 198d says:

      Yep. Also a non-Torontonian Jays fan. The MLB.TV Canada wide blackout is insanity. Bonus points as Rogers does not even provide the ninety-nine thousand Sportsnet channels here, and so half of the time I can’t watch the games on TV even if I wanted to.

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  17. Local Subscription Problems says:

    One of the major problems with the Padres deal is that you have to have Cox Cable Internet in order to be able to watch the local game. Cox Internet doesn’t even cover all of San Diego, let alone all of San Diego’s blackout area.

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  18. Daniel says:

    I’m in Dallas and am a Rangers fan. I get all the Rangers game on TV, so I certainly don’t have a complaint like Iowans do, but it still pisses me off that I can’t watch Rangers games on my iPad or iPhone. I have MLB At Bat and I have watched exactly one Rangers game this year — when I was out of town.

    It would be awesome if I could watch day games from work, but clearly we can’t have that.

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  19. Lobo Ray says:

    Try what I do to avoid the all blackouts, live in the U.K.

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  20. Rick says:

    I mean this earnestly, who makes money from the blackout policies? Who loses money (other than fans)? Money is the language of owners and unless blackout rules are clearly demonstrated to negatively impact revenue, there is no strong impetus for change.

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  21. Maury Brown says:

    The weekend blackout policy is the one that drives me nuts. National exclusivity agreements should be mentioned clearly (not buried in fine print). The policies as a whole border on false advertising. “Catch all the action”… Surely you jest.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more Klaus Meine references.

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  22. Marcus says:

    It kills me to read articles when the writer of said article doesn’t seem to know how to spell. Really? Afterwords?

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  23. DPF says:

    Thankfully, one can always go to a site such as myP2P and get the games streamed. I suppose it’s technically piracy but if they are unwilling to provide a product for which I am willing to pay, fuck ‘em.

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  24. Here is a link with instructions on how to beat the MLB.TV blackouts (as it is only on your computer):

    http://fewproudbrave.wordpress.com/mlb-tv-alternative/

    There’s a walk through for people who aren’t computer savvy and a few baseball jokes.

    Should I buy MLB extra innings? I live in the suburbs of Chicago and I follow the Braves. I wasn’t blackout out when I had MLB.TV. Are their restrictions the same?

    Thanks.

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  25. Easy way to avoid the blackouts – move outside the USA (and not to Canada or Japan).

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  26. excatcher says:

    Thank you.

    I live in Louisiana, but I grew up an Orioles fan in PA. So I have the mlb.tv package. Living in Louisiana, 6 hours from Houston, and 8 hours from Arlington, I am blacked out of both those team’s games, (home and away, oddly enough). These games are not available on my local cable network.

    So when my newly-managered O’s played the Rangers on a Fox Saturday game recently, I was pretty excited about the opportunity to watch the O’s/Rangers live for once, on a real TV, on a Saturday. Instead, Fox decided to show the Cubs/Cards.

    So what’s the point of these ‘network territories’ if they’re not going to show the team in the entire territory? There should be a rule saying that if the team isn’t shown on local TV, then no blackout, and if it takes longer to drive to the stadium then the average game takes, no blackout. Also, away games, no blackout.

    MLB’s blackout policy is ridiculous.

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  27. Shane says:

    Does anyone know if TBS will be blacking out MLB playoff games this year?

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  28. tyrone says:

    i live in southeast louisiana this is braves country always has been always will be why are we forced to watch the stupid astros we live in the southeast not southwest if i lived 2 hours east in mississippi i could get all the braves games thats sad we living in louisiana should have a choice lsu is in the sec we cant get sec foxsportsouth coverage we have to watch a bunch of texas teams that sucks i live 6.5 hours from houston texas i live 7.5 hours from atlanta im almost in the middle mlb blackout restrictions are redicoulous and should be changed im tired of the corruption!

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  29. tyrone says:

    living in southeast louisiana its astros baseball not braves baseball the fan base here is atlanta braves so we are forced to watch espn highlights to see the braves or being slaves to directv for 300 plus dollars to watch a team geographically we should be seeing anyways i hate the corrupt world we live in!

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