With 2009 fast approaching, and with it the launch of the MLB Network, Jeff Passan is reporting that (praise be) MLB may be lifting the lion’s share of blackout restrictions at the local/regional level. While there is not a collective voice (yet) from the owners, MLB COO Bob DuPuy said he is vastly in favor of lifting the restrictions after hearing the cries from fans subscribed to MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV. As reported by Passan on Yahoo! Sports:
At the owners’ meetings Wednesday, DuPuy said he will propose that if a team is not broadcasting in a geographic location for at least one season, it loses the right to black out games in that area. Gone would be the blackouts that prevent folks in Iowa and Las Vegas from seeing as many as six games each night and have caused viewing havoc throughout the country.
“I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to black out in those territories,” DuPuy said. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”
In Passan's report, DuPuy brings up the little known “haircut provisions” – the fact that many times advertising deals are tied to audience size, which a paring down a give territory for a club or clubs might impact. Passan reports that “DuPuy’s staff pored over the 30 teams’ local television contracts last week and has yet to determine how potential conflicts would affect his plan.”
Before there is dancing in the streets by baseball fans caught in MLB’s arcane and vexing television territory messes, remember, national television deals will not be altered. That means, ESPN maintains their exclusive national broadcast window for all games they broadcast on Sunday nights. So, no telecast can be made available for out–of–market distribution (that’s MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV) during this exclusive window. As their rights are for night games only, any games which start after 5:00pm ET (2:00pm PT) cannot be distributed out–of–market. But remember, that changed the first Sunday after the All–Star Game (7/15/08). From then on, no game with a start time after 3:00pm ET (12:00pm PT) can be distributed out–of–market.
As for FOX, every Saturday of the regular season, the they have the exclusive national rights to broadcast games up until 7:00pm ET (4:00pm PT). That means that MLB Extra Innings games are available Saturday for night games that begin after 7:00pm ET (4:00pm PT).
As mentioned, the MLB Network channel launch on January 1, 2009 impacts matters greatly. MLB has planned to air some games on the new network, which will reach approximately 50 million homes. If the cries of consumers are loud now, how do you think it will be when the audience on a magnitude larger come January? Here’s to hoping DuPuy gets the owners to see the light, and get us all out of the black.
UPDATE: Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily gets more out of DuPuy :
"We're trying to make this real simple: a club is going to need to be in that market to claim that market," DuPuy said. "It does not make sense to have as many clubs claim these areas as they have. And in the end, the goal is simply to have more baseball available for more fans, which in the end can only help us. Assuming we tie up some remaining things and this is approved by the Executive Council (on Wednesday), I would expect some action on this (from the owners)."
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