Can you smell it yet? The freshly cut grass, the muffled sound of thousands of fans, the wonderous gasps of young people? Baseball is back. I’m generally an avid fan of professional sports and, as I’ve written about before, a strong promoter of the idea that the pro sports leagues I love so much could benefit greatly from a wider, more open embrace for streaming their games online. Particularly for leagues on the lower end of the popularity and revenue spectrums, I would think that building a wider audience through internet streaming would be a boon to otherwise mediocre broadcasting partnerships. The NHL in particular is known to have absolutely brutal broadcast contracts that aren’t supporting teams as well as they could if the league were to attempt to multiply their viewership through streaming.
But with Major League Baseball, it’s a whole different animal. Teams in Major League Baseball are insanely profitable, in largest part because of the broadcasting revenue. With that in mind, it might seem silly to suggest that MLB should be looking at ways to free up their streaming product. But that’s wrong and here’s why.
First, let’s start with a little background and some compliments. Nobody in pro sports leagues does streaming as well as MLB in terms of quality and quantity. For $130/year, you get almost all the games for the entire season in full HD, with options for the radio or television broadcasts offered by either of the teams playing. The stream is reliable and of good quality, with a pop-out media player that’s simple. For the games they stream, it works beautifully.
You’ve probably already guessed the problem, haven’t you? It’s region locked, with the arbitrary borders of a team’s fan-base blacked out from their team’s streams, both for home games and away games. The idea, of course, is that MLB doesn’t want to offend their local broadcast partners by offering their broadcast over streaming as a charged service. Their thought is essentially that the broadcast is TV’s product and local advertising is what pays the television stations, who in turn pay MLB for the rights to the games. Let’s turn this on its head, though, and see the insane kind of money MLB could make if they stopped seeing themselves as only being in the baseball business and also offered up their established streaming infrastructure to their broadcasting partners.
MLB, today, could go to TV stations, cable or otherwise, and offer up their robust streaming platform. MLB would make its money charging more for broadcast rights under that kind of agreement. TV stations in turn could claim a higher viewership than they have today through TV only, allowing them to generate increased revenue in advertising sales and rates. Keep in mind that MLB.TV is using those station broadcasts anyway (for instance, the MLB.TV Chicago Cubs stream is just the WGN/CSN broadcast streamed over MLB.COM). Between internet streaming and mobile devices, viewership numbers would skyrocket. I say this because of how often we’re told about the horrific danger of all the sports streaming sites already out there offering the exact thing MLB.TV could be getting paid for. In other words, anyone with an internet connection can already do all this, while MLB.TV could offer the same thing as part of their package with infrastructure they already have in place.
In summary, baseball could today, without having to invest in any infrastructure, work with broadcast partners to free up streaming to local fans who can already get those streams through illegitimate services. It would benefit the league, the broadcast partners, the advertisers, and the fans. There is literally no loser in this equation. All it would take is some forward-thinking folks in the league and TV to get over their protectionist traditions and make it happen.
In the meantime, my MLB.TV subscription means I can’t watch my team play for no logical reason.