MLB In Talks To Offer Streaming For All Teams' Home Games In-Market Even Without A Cable Subscription
from the home-run dept
Streaming options for professional and major college sports has long been a fascination of mine. That is in part because I’m both a fairly big fan of major sports and a fan of streaming over the wire instead of having cable television. My family cut the cord a couple of years back and hasn’t looked back since, almost entirely satisfied with our decision. The one area of concern here continues to be being able to stream our local sports teams, as most of the pro sports leagues still have stupid local blackout rules. MLB.TV, the league’s fantastic streaming service, has these rules too. While using a DNS proxy is trivially easy, easier would be the league coming to terms with modernity and ending the blackout rules. Notably, MLB did this in 2015 when it came specifically to Fox Sports broadcasts for 15 teams, but as I noted at the time:
But don’t think for a single moment that that’s where it ends. Even if MLB can’t get similar deals in place for the other half of teams in the league, which would fully free up the fantastic MLB.TV product for local streaming, any modicum of success that Fox has with this program will be immediately adopted by the other broadcasters. They really don’t have a choice. Cord-cutting isn’t going away and it’s been professional and college sports that have long kept subscribers tethered.
It took longer than I expected, but it’s finally happening. Reports indicate that MLB is currently planning to rollout an all-league streaming option that would end local blackout rules entirely, even for cord-cutters. And, in case you thought this was going to be an MLB-only thing, its bringing the other major leagues along for the ride.
The web-based service — which could address a decades-old annoyance for baseball fans that some have partly blamed for the league’s steadily declining viewership — could launch as early as the 2023 season, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations said.
The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are also considering partnering with MLB on the new streaming service, sources said. Insiders say subscription rates would vary by geographic market and could be between $10 and $20 a month — well below the monthly cost of most cable-TV packages, which can easily stretch past $100.
As you might imagine, the cable companies are not thrilled with this. After all, while cord-cutting has been a steady force in the American media landscape, the dam has yet to burst and that is almost certainly due to the appetite for live sports broadcasts that still sit behind complicated cable television deals these leagues have with broadcast partners. So how is this going to work?
Well, MLB is doing what I suggested almost a decade ago: making the streaming broadcast identical to the television broadcast and giving broadcast partners some of the revenue, while also giving the broadcast commercial advertisements the additional reach of the stream.
Sources said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could end up offering cable-TV giants a piece of the streaming revenue to compensate for potential subscriber losses. Manfred’s pitch is that cable TV won’t lose many subscribers, as MLB is mainly targeting younger customers who have already cut the cord, sources said. The cable companies don’t have streaming rights but could retaliate by paying less to broadcast games if they don’t like the bargain, sources said.
As for the teams, MLB’s streaming service would pay them based on viewership in their local markets. One MLB owner said the league has kept its owners appraised, and believes it has general support though no vote has been taken. Indeed, the MLB and team owners are concerned over dire forecasts for viewership. Roughly half of Americans will not be watching cable or satellite TV within a few years, according to Pew Research Center annual surveys.
There is no firm deal yet, as MLB is currently working with broadcast partners and its teams to finalize the plan. Sinclair Broadcasting is a major piece of gum in the works, because of course it is. Sinclair has the broadcast rights for nearly half the league’s teams and is putting up a stink, though MLB’s strategy appears to be repeatedly pointing out that Sinclair may be in such dire financial trouble such that it can’t be trusted to continue operating far into the future.
At first, sources said Sinclair tried to persuade MLB to allow it to control the service for several years before handing the reins to MLB. But the league wasn’t having it, citing Sinclair’s financial condition and raising concerns that the company won’t be able to spend the money that’s needed for high-quality broadcasts, sources said.
In 2019, Sinclair’s Diamond Sports subsidiary paid $9.6 billion for the Fox Regional Sports Networks, since rebranded to Bally’s, giving it exclusive rights to the 14 MLB teams, 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL teams. It borrowed a staggering $8 billion to fund the deal, sources said. Since then, Dish, Hulu and YouTube TV have stopped carrying the Bally’s RSNs, even as revenue from existing distribution deals has been slammed by cord cutting and subscriber declines. An August Moody’s Investors Service report found that Sinclair “now has an unsustainable capital structure given its very high leverage and weak liquidity.”
Don’t threaten me with a good time, Sinclair.
Regardless, everything about these plans represents a massive step in the right direction. Sports leagues will be eyeing how this goes with great interest. When it goes well, as it almost certainly will, this could be the start of a massive change in how sporting events are consumed by the public.
And the end of cable television as we know it.