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#pounditThursday, June 20, 2024

MLB may finally be able to fix 1 huge issue

Rob Manfred looking ahead

Oct 26, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before game one of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

One big issue has plagued Major League Baseball for quite some time, and the league might finally be poised to fix it.

The Bally Sports Regional Networks, which is owned by Diamond Sports (a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting), is facing bankruptcy this year. Diamond Sports will attempt to restructure their debt, which could lead to a renegotiation of the regional sports contracts they have with teams. Diamond Sports holds the TV rights for 14 MLB, 12 NHL, and 16 NBA teams.

If Diamond Sports attempts to renegotiate their contracts, MLB could take the opportunity to eliminate local blackouts that have been an issue for years.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that his goal is to eliminate blackouts completely.

“I hope we get to the point where on the digital side, when you go to MLB.tv, you can buy whatever the heck you want,” Manfred said, via Evan Drellich of The Athletic. “You can buy the out-of-market package. You can buy the local games, you can buy two sets of local games — whatever you want. I mean, that is, to me, the definition of what is going to be a valuable digital offering going forward.

“The games being available digitally in-market is something fans have been screaming for, for years. I don’t relish any of this. I think it’s necessary to have a centrally based solution to what’s a really serious problem and move us forward to our next stage of delivering games to fans, on delivering them where they want to watch them, and without the kind of blackouts that we’ve had in the old model.”

Blackouts have long bothered baseball fans and made the sport less accessible. Regional sports networks pay so much money to have the exclusive TV rights for a team’s games in their local market that those games are not available for streaming through MLB.tv’s online package for those who live in the team’s local market. For example, a Braves fan living in Atlanta who doesn’t have a cable or streaming package that includes Fox Sports South but buys the MLB.tv package would not be able to see Braves games through MLB.tv.

The biggest example of how bad the problem is comes from those in the state of Iowa. Iowa is considered to be a “local” market for the Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals and Royals. That means fans living in Iowa are blacked out of watching games for all four teams through MLB.tv.

Manfred has already said that the league will step in to ensure fans can see games in their local market even if a Bally Sports network shutters.

MLB has added a position seemingly tasked with eliminating its blackout policy once and for all. It may or may not happen this year, but the league appears serious of finally ending the archaic restrictions and letting fans who are willing to pay see whatever teams they want.

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