Select the image above to see Major
League Baseball's television blackout
(CLICK TO SEE IN LARGER VIEW)
Each year, I report extensively on MLB television territories, national broadcast and exclusivity deals, outlining for the uninitiated the convoluted blackout policy that Major League Baseball has. This year is no exception, as the league will not see any changes with the season now under way. That might change over the course of the year, but I would not bank on it given how the state of the economy currently is.
Instead of detailing the blackout policy, I’m hoping to dull the blow for any potential subscribers to MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV before they plunk down what little disposable income they have left on either of the packages, only to find out the team they hope to see isn’t being shown in their area due to the blackout policy. As an example, here’s just one of many emails I have received over the last few days that might have been avoided. I’ll say this is from “Susan”:
I purchased the Extra-Inning package from Brighthouse, I also paid for for one for my daughter to have at her house... and today is Tuesday, April 7th... the Atlanta Braves are not on tonight. How many Braves games am I going to miss? I don't want to be paying for something that isn't going to be what I expected.
Here are 7 things you should do before subscribing.
1) Select the map image above and look for where you live. Use the legend to see what clubs deem your area to be “local”. If it seems odd that sections of Montana are declared as the “local” territory of the Mariners, it is.
2) Understand that MLB’s ad that says “Catch All the Action” is a half-truth. Everyone gets hit by blackouts with MLB Extra Innings, just some less than others. Check your local regional sports network (Fox Sports Net is a good example) as often times (but not always) the team you are looking to watch is on their channel
3) Check to see what teams are going to be blacked out by zip code. MLB.TV has a fine print section at the bottom of the page that everyone should read before making any “out of market” package purchase. Here is the zip code locator on MLB.TV
4) If you are part of the iNDemand consortium of cable providers (Time Warner, Cox, Comcast), go to iNDemand’s MLB Extra Innings page and use their zip code locator to see what games are available for a given day. If the team you were hoping to catch is playing that day, but doesn’t show up on iNDemand’s schedule for your area, you’ve been hit with a blackout.
5) Don’t expect some smaller carriers to have a zip code locator where you can find out whether you are going to be hit with the Blackout Blues. After “Susan’s” email, I tried to see if Brighthouse had a zip code locator. Nada.
Here’s a press release that devotes two sentences to the blackout policy for Brighthouse, adding, “Blackout restrictions apply to certain games and media markets, such as with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Florida Marlins.” Note that the Braves were not mentioned; something “Susan” would probably have liked to have known. Before making a purchase, call these carriers and get an answer on the club in question you have interest in. Make sure and get the CSR’s name and ask them if refunds are available if the information they are providing is incorrect.
6) If you are a DirecTV subscriber, make sure and read all of this page before purchasing. Pay close attention to the fine print in gray toward the bottom, especially this:
Sports subscriptions cannot be cancelled (sic), transferred, refunded or credited (in part or in whole) after the season starts.
7) If worst comes to worst and you find that before you purchase MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV that you are going to be stuck in a blackout, there are a couple of options to allow you to catch games, just not visually. You can catch Gameday Audio via MLB.com’s At Bat 2009, or on your computer (remember, these are separate purchases). If you are a Sirius/XM Radio subscriber, you can catch all games there, as well. In both of these instances you get both home and away radio feeds. I have "At Bat 2009" for iPhone and at $9.99 for the year, it is one heck of a bargain.
MLB Extra Innings is a great thing… sort of. In a case of full discloser, although I have been highly critical of the blackout policy in Major League Baseball, I have been a repeat subscriber of MLB Extra Innings through DirecTV. Of course, I am only hit with blackouts for the Mariners, and for the most part, can catch them through FSNW if I desire. I seriously doubt that I would purchase the package if I lived in Las Vegas where the Padres, Giants, A’s, Dodgers, Angels, and Diamondbacks are blacked out, or in Oklahoma or Arkansas where the Royals, Cardinals, Rangers, and Astros are subject to the policy.
If MLB isn’t going to be addressing the blackout policy when the season starts (and maybe all the way through the 2009 season), hopefully these suggestions can at least prevent fans from forking over their hard-earned money instead of seeing blank screen where they thought they’d be seeing their favorite team play that day.
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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