Friday 1st March 2024
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No single event fueled the rise of television more than live sports. In April 1939 at Baker Field in New York City, RCA broadcast the first ever televised baseball game with Red Barber calling the action.

Today, MLB games are primarily televised through regional sports networks. But the league still retains local rights for some major-market teams.

Broadcasting

Amid a broader shakeup of the cable industry and ongoing cord-cutting, baseball is confronting the threat of two regional sports network groups running into financial trouble. That threatens to alter the business model that for decades turbocharged team revenues and salaries.

The bankruptcy filing by Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair Broadcasting subsidiary that operates networks under the Bally Sports name, threatens live broadcasts of 14 MLB teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres.

Typically, a league manages national rights while the teams negotiate deals in their home markets. The RSNs then attract carriage fees from cable operators such as Xfinity and Spectrum, which are passed along to customers regardless of whether they can tell Mike Trout from an Aaron Judge. These high fees allow the networks to command high subscription rates. Those rates, however, are being undermined by the turbulence in the cable and television industries.

Blackouts

One thing that baseball could do to make things a lot better for fans is to take out those pesky regional blackout restrictions. The rules are silly and they’re keeping fans away from the game. The league is reportedly looking into making the national MLB TV product blackout free.

But there’s a catch to this. The streaming rights teams are negotiating now are wholly unrelated to local broadcasting rights, and the service won’t change the blackout situation.

The move would be a good first step for MLB to show its commitment to growing the game. Getting to the ballpark isn’t feasible for a large number of fans because of cost and distance, so watching games on TV is the next best thing. Blackouts only alienate fans, especially younger ones, who are the future of the sport. Streaming will make it much easier for kids to watch any team they want. Blackouts are a barrier that the league needs to remove as quickly as possible.

Streaming

As pay-TV providers lose subscribers, streaming services are stepping into the fray. But turning a profit on sports programming isn’t easy, and baseball streaming options are aimed at fans willing to pay up. Most cost in the $20 to $25 range per month, with advertising an unavoidable part of the package.

The cheapest way to stream MLB games this season may be Fubo, which offers the Bally Sports regional network as well as YES and NESN. But Fubo’s base Pro package doesn’t cover all teams, so fans should check the service’s coverage before signing up.

Other services, such as DirecTV Stream and Hulu Plus, offer a larger selection of RSNs but come with more expensive plans. Those looking for the best value should consider signing up with a bundle like the one offered by DirectTV, which includes the NBC Sports regional networks as well as YES and NESN, along with ESPN, TBS and MLB Network.

Distribution

In 1983, the sport negotiated a six-year television deal with ABC, which picked up three games each week. CBS got the remaining two. This was a compromise, since CBS wanted to do its own Game of the Week on Thursday night and was concerned about being forced to play doubleheaders with NBC (which had the rights to the World Series in even-numbered years).

The current situation is more complicated. The new owners of the ABC and NBC regional sports networks are trying to negotiate lower contracts, as they are losing money in an era of cord-cutting. They are also facing financial pressures from Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the local cable broadcast rights to 14 MLB teams and operates the Bally Sports regional sports networks.

Sinclair is in bankruptcy proceedings, and baseball teams fear that they could lose their rights to televise games in their own markets. To prevent this, Major League Baseball has hired three executives to run a new local media department. 메이저리그중계

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