Sunday, January 31, 2021

MLB, Streaming Services for Television, Blackouts, Fox Sports Midwest, RSN, and Contract Disputes -- Time for a Change by MLB for Live Game Viewing

Screen Shot of YoutTube TV and MLB Apps

Background on Blackouts, Streaming Services, and MLB

As of today, it will not be possible to watch Kansas City Royals baseball when it starts later this year on a variety of streaming services which currently includes YouTubeTV, Sling, Hulu+, and Dish to name a few. It is important to note that Sling is owned by Dish, but all of this has to do with the contracts, or lack thereof; these television viewing services have not been able to agree to contracts with Sinclair Broadcast Group for Fox Sports Midwest to play Royals games but many other events too. The companies in contract disputes means that not only do their viewers (i.e. ME) are not able to watch Royals games but we do not get the channels at all. They were completely removed from YouTubeTV, Sling, Hulu+, and Dish.

A recent article (Sports Networks Are Losing Their Grip on Your Television) from The Motely Fool  provides a detailed background on how the contracts are done with viewing services, why this happened, and possibly the future of how this will work.

It is important to note that this is not only affecting the fans of Kansas City Royals, but other markets too that want to watch their favorites teams whether that is baseball or hockey. Recently, I have been reading a lot of customers complaining regarding not being able to watch their local hockey team because their Fox Sports Network is gone. All of which is because the provider and Sinclair have not been able to come to agreement on a contract.

Typical cable providers such as AT&T or ComCast (note Xfinity bought ComCast) keep the contracts because they are large and that’s how it has been for years, but it is the streaming services that have lost out. I recall when we were a Dish customer that it seemed that almost every year it would be threatened that we would lose our ability to view games. Sometimes the channel would go out for a few days while they were making negotiations and suddenly the channel would be back. Then they started to lose the channel out of season of the sport such as baseball. Now it is gone completely from all these services with no end game for when or if it will return.

Meanwhile, there is a Major League Baseball app (MLB) that is available to listen or watch games that are out of market. Sounds great, right? Well, with the MLB local games are blacked out so you can only watch them after they finish. The radio option is available to listen to the game live, but sometimes it is nice to be able to relax on a weekend, drink a beer, and watch my local sports team.

The process of blackouts has never made sense going back to when I was a Cox customer years ago and there would be two channels with one broadcast out of Topeka and the other from Kansas City. One channel would blackout during different times of the day as they wanted us to watch it on the other local channel. What? That made no sense then... Today, I understand why MLB blacked out local games years ago, but why does it still happen? 

Request for Change by MLB

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels
Let us be fans. Let us watch the games. My request is directed to MLB and their agreements with various providers to ask if we are fans to be able to watch and not have blackouts for live games. Especially if we are paying MLB to be able to watch the games we should be able to watch them no matter in market or not. The whole process seems to be antiquated and out of touch from what is happening in the streaming service industry. We are paying you for the access to your app and we should be able to watch live games through the app whether in market or not.

The whole idea of having blackouts reminds me of having an old TV sitting in a field and not being able to watch the TV because there is no power. Here we are with the power but the games are blacked out because of agreements between MLB, major television providers, and local affiliates. 

The reasons for the blackouts is simple and twofold: the first reason is cable providers' desire for exclusive broadcasting rights in their local networks. The second, is MLB's desire to get fans into the stadium for attendance purposes. -- from SportingNews

This is an old practice dating back to agreements with cable providers and the desire to get people into games. Having a blackout in my view does not make me attend the games. Instead, I will either listen to the game or not pay attention at all. When we pay for a service we should be able to watch the live games and not have to watch the game after the live event has ended.

MLB , please change the process and lift the antiquated process of blackouts!

What Happens Next?

Even though YouTubeTV has increased their prices, we are happy with their service. DVR options are awesome! I am hopeful that Sinclair Broadcast Group and YouTubeTV can come to an agreement so that when baseball starts later this year, I can watch the games. However, I am not holding my breath as it has been an ongoing battle for a few years as mentioned earlier. What if nothing happens and no live television baseball for me in the spring or through the summer? Well, I will try to bum access from friends who have DirectTV so I can use their service to watch the games. Or, simply, I will listen to my $2.99 a month MLB Audio so I can listen to the games will be how I will follow my team. I have no plans to change television service because of a contract dispute. I will be frustrated and blame MLB and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Spring training is right around the corner. How are you doing to follow your team?

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