Here’s a scenario that might play out real soon.
It’s late March and a baseball fan goes to order MLB Extra Innings through their local cable provider. The fan has trouble ordering the service and finally places a call to their cable company.
The cable company kindly informs the fan that MLB Extra Innings is not being offered anymore. The MLB Extra Innings package is being offered only through DirecTV, as part of the exclusive agreement the satellite provider and MLB struck earlier in the year.
The frustrated fan has options. A) MLB.tv’s broadband service, or B) miss out on seeing baseball games from across the country entirely, C) Order DirecTV, D) listen to games on XM Radio.
Earlier this month, Sports Business Journal reported that Major League Baseball and DirecTV were in “advanced talks to make the satellite television company the exclusive provider of MLB Extra Innings.” It’s a story I’ve been writing, researching and monitoring for a couple days now.
The news in Saturday’s New York Times (subscription required) is that MLB is close to announcing the official deal in which DirecTV will pay MLB $700 million over 7 years.
For Major League Baseball, it would mean shutting out an estimate 750,000 cable subscribers to the baseball package (according to SBJ), which airs as many as 60 games per week during the baseball season.
This move would come as a disappointing to baseball fans who have enjoyed watching baseball games nationwide. The DirecTV subscribers have had the MLB Extra Innings package option since 1996. The cable viewers, who have the MLB EI option since 2001, will be shut out of the package and will have to rely on baseball from the regional sports and national networks.
Fox baseball is airing 26 Saturday games this year, something that’s been needed for a while. In fact, this is the first year since 1989 that their will be a game of the week televised on the season’s first weekend.
ESPN will still air Sunday, Monday and Wednesday night games this year. TBS’ Sunday Game of the Week is still a year away. The one problem with these is that the freedom to watch the game of your choosing is hampered. Saturday Fox games result in blackouts to the Extra Innings baseball schedule, a result of the Fox’s agreement with MLB.
I can think of two reason’s MLB is doing this move
1) Extreme confidence that the mlb.tv package, which generated 1.3 million subscribers in 2005 (according to multichannel.com’s article), will have increased subscriptions in 2007. MLB.tv’s package is attractive to people since it’s a little more than half the price ($79.95) than the $170 Extra Innings package. For those who opt not to see these games through television for whatever reason, this package is ideal. Still, I’m not convinced the EI removal will result in people coming over to mlb.tv in mass quantities. The blackout policy won’t change one iota. I applaud anyone who has the dedication to watch these games from their computer.
2) The amount of money they’ll get from DirecTV will offset any losses to the Extra Innings removal from cable. $700 million sounds like enough! Don’t forget MLB’s revenues and attendance were at record highs in 2006.
I don’t know how many people will jump to DirecTV for simply the baseball package. Some people are faced with dish challenges such as location and condo/apartment restriction. I live in a condo that faces a courtyard and does not get clear access to the sun. Also, I have restrictions regarding satellite dishes. My wife and I also are quite happy with our cable provider and while EI is great, I won’t change cable options just for baseball. Other people can’t because they have their cable company providing bundled services-cable, internet and phone.
Personally, my baseball viewing will be okay. I have the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network with my cable service so I can watch the Nationals games all season. ESPN and Fox can fill in some of the gaps but there’s so much that will be missed.
The combination of a MLB’s frustrating blackout policy and the possible MLB/DirecTV move could force fans to tune out and drop out.