MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has rankled a lot of people with his comments about various topics this year. But when it comes to local MLB blackouts, he’s still saying the right things.
On an appearance on the Marchand & Ourand Sports Media Podcast, Manfred talked about local blackouts and his desire to eliminate them across the league.
Can MLB get rid of blackouts?
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— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) September 27, 2023
“I believe that one of the fundamental goals that we have as the media landscape is reworked is that whatever exclusivity we give to a particular cable provider, we oughta have the ability to go side-by-side with a digital product so that people are not blacked out,” Manfred said. “That is business objective number one at Major League Baseball right now.”
“The reason it has taken a long time to get at this blackout issue is that when clubs make long-term RSN agreements, they historically grant exclusivity that covers both sides of the house to that cable provider. If the cable provider doesn’t get distribution in a particular area, you have a blackout, right? And that’s beyond our control. That’s a product of a contractual arrangement between an individual club and an RSN, and that’s one that has been hard to deal with.”
This has been an ongoing issue for MLB, and Manfred has been publicly speaking about the league’s desire to solve the problem for at least a year. Last summer, he called ending blackouts a “top priority” for the league. Weeks later, he elaborated by saying that eliminating the blackouts was a “massive undertaking” that would require a “fundamental reordering” of media rights across the league.
A year later, little has changed in the way of eliminating blackouts. The Padres and Diamondbacks have parted ways with their Bally Sports RSNs, leading MLB to offer direct-to-consumer (DTC) subscription streaming plans in those markets. The list of teams participating in the Bally Sports+ in-market streaming service remains at five (Brewers, Marlins, Rays, Royals, Tigers). The RSNs owned by the Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox have opened up their own in-market streaming services.
But for most fans across the country, if your cable provider doesn’t carry the RSN for your local (ish), you’re still out of luck. There’s simply no legal way to watch your team if you fall into this category (sorry, Iowa-based fans).
The launching of several DTC services is a positive development. But we’re still a long way off the complete end of local blackouts across the country.