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A Day (almost) of Watching Baseball

June 29, 2013

Today I am home from a week-long trip to Seattle. No one else is home. Equipped with my Roku box, MLB.tv subscription, and MLB Network on my cable box, I was planning to spend 12 hours watching baseball. But, thanks to MLB’s antedeluvian blackout rules, I was forbidden to watch the first game of the day, the 1 pm Nats/Mets game. That’s because North Carolina lies within both Washington and Baltimore’s blackout territory. This means that not only can no other team try to broadcast its games into NC, but that the O’s and Nats can choose which of their games I can watch. And since the Regional Sports Network for my area (MASN) has not come to terms with my TV provider (AT&T), I don’t get to watch *any* Nats and O’s games. And without any need to worry about competition from other RSN’s or other teams, MASN is in no hurry to negotiate. And that is because of the misguided thinking that lies at the root of the blackout scheme: that showing games on TV reduces interest in attending a team’s games, and thus is bad for the team.

Apparently this reasoning extends to the first days of radio–teams feared that, with the game available at home, no one would want to come to the park. The opposite is true, of course–exposure to the game increases interest in it. Yet here we are, nearly a century later, and teams still think I will want to drive 5 or 6 hours to watch a team because I cannot see them on TV. Further, I am supposed to want to support a team which won’t let me watch their game today … which they are playing in New York. That’s right–my interest in watching a team whose games I can’t see is supposed to compel me to fly to NYC to watch them. All of which is to say that I spent three hours watching Wimbledon–and reminiscing about one of the more amazing days in my life, just 52 Saturdays ago–instead of the Mets and Nats.

The blackout map is ridiculous–fans in Iowa are banned from watching six teams. The Blue Jays get to black out all of Canada, the second-largest country on Earth. And even though I am nearly as close to Atlanta as I am to Baltimore, I can watch the Braves but not the Orioles. Further, the blackout also applies to my MLB.tv subscription–I pay $120+ a year to see my Red Sox play, but the O’s can blackout those games for me too … unless I am traveling to, say, Seattle, where my viewing is not perceived as a threat to the Orioles. The map is finally being challenged in court, and I hope one day that every baseball fan can watch every game made available to them, or for which they pay a premium to see.

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