Seeing a lot of (incorrect) blackout talk with the MLB season kicking off today along as people try out things like MLB.tv (which I got for free from T-Mobile this year).
Modern MLB blackouts have nothing to do with “driving fans to attend games1” or the MLB as a whole. With the exception of nationally broadcast games, each MLB team negotiates their TV contracts independently. That negotiation includes where and how blackouts are implemented. So when your local team is on ESPN, you might be forced to watch on your local Regional Sports Network instead. Or if you live in Iowa, you might get hit with tons of blackouts from multiple teams on MLB.tv.
This desire for blackouts is driven by the RSNs not the teams themselves, as they want as many eyeballs on their channel through the cable provider so they can collect those carriage fees for every resident that has access to the channel and ad revenue. And (big market) teams like it this way because they get lots of of money in those contracts from the RSNs for those exclusive rights in their local markets.
There are potential solutions, but the MLB commissioner waving his magical wand is not one of them. It’d need to be written into every contract with every RSN and would result in the teams getting less in those negotiations2. Greedy owners like the Ricketts, who also own a stake in the channel the Cubs are on now, will likely fight every step of the way into a more modern offering because if the average viewer went to MLB.tv instead of cable, big market teams would have to essentially split their cut with smaller market teams.
Apple and MLS were able to avoid this because there weren’t many huge RSN contracts to begin with (all MLS games were already offered on ESPN+ with no blackouts previously) and the MLS works more as a collective than the individual MLB teams anyways3.
I agree that blackouts suck, but most live TV streamers have local RSNs, so if you really cared, there’s a solution even if you don’t want cable. Or just be like me and move from Chicago to Seattle and watch all the Bulls and Cubs your heart desires.
there may be exceptions, I don’t know the detail of every single teams local tv contract, but the White Sox never sell-out and are always broadcast on cable locally. Go Cubs!↩︎
could they make it up with more MLB.tv subscribers, potentially, but it’s not a given, and if they went that direction RSNs would eventually die out and someone would need to take over the broadcasting. None of that is impossible to overcome, but it’s a lot of hurdles and things to be considered.↩︎
see the talks of all MLS teams chipping into a potential Messi contract as an example.↩︎