MLB’s blackout policy is one of the most loathed topics in sports media, and it’s only gotten worse in recent years with many cable, satellite, and streaming companies dumping RSNs en masse. Blackouts aren’t a baseball-only problem, but the MLB blackouts receive the most attention. A billboard begging for the end of blackouts even went up in Iowa leading into last year’s Field of Dreams game.
The league knows this is an issue, and Commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken about blackouts several times this summer. In a feature about MLB.Tv posted Monday by the Sports Business Journal, another of the league’s top officials talked about blackouts and MLB’s commitment to solve the issue. When (or if) the problem gets solved, MLB.TV could be a beneficiary of in-market streaming.
League officials wouldn’t delve into specifics regarding how or when they see the policy either ending or being relaxed, but MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden offered a nugget about what could be looming on the horizon: “I would say there’s going to be more to come on that front. … I hope at one point to have in-market [streaming] available on the product as well.”
However, solving the blackout problem can’t be done overnight. Manfred said as much last month, calling it a “massive undertaking” that would “involve fundamental reordering of the control of rights in the industry.”
This viewpoint was seconded in the SBJ piece by MLB’s Kenny Gersh, who referenced the various interconnected issues when it comes to blackouts.
With blackout clauses included in existing deals that the league has with its broadcast partners, Kenny Gersh, MLB’s executive vice president of business development, emphasized the complexity in finding a solution.
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, where you change one dynamic and it has four other ripple effects. But we are laser focused on that topic and are trying to see how we can navigate the rights landscape to ensure that anybody around the globe who wants to watch a Major League Baseball game has a seamless-as-possible way to do so.”
Gersh isn’t wrong. There are 30 teams that have 30 contracts with RSNs, and those RSNs have many contracts with carriers. Just because one team is able to get a deal done for in-market streaming doesn’t mean that all teams will be able to, and the length of some of the contracts teams have with their RSNs (the Phillies, for instance, have a 25-year deal with NBC Sports Philadelphia that started in 2016) could make getting a streaming deal done more complicated.