The technology is in place, but can the politics be overcome?
MLB is looking to stream local games online next year, even though plans fizzled for such an arrangement this year with Chicago Cubs and White Sox games through Comcast. According to Ourand and Fisher of the Sports Business Journal (SBJ), an MLB/Comcast deal was close at hand this past spring which would have had MLB Advanced Media stream the games for free at the local market level. The geo-location technology is reportedly in place to track just those subscribers to Comcast Sports Net (CSN) Chicago. The deal would have had Comcast and MLBAM splitting ad revenues.
The deal fell apart when the sides – MLBAM and CSN Chicago – couldn’t agree whether games would be streamed on their respective sites, something that would have garnered increased traffic.
As reported by the SBJ:
The MLB-Comcast talks are important on several levels. As the quality of video streaming continues to improve, the application of local market streaming has taken on new prominence in recent months. NBA executives recently disclosed plans to stream games locally starting next season, a first for a major U.S. sports league. That will likely set up a battle between the league, the individual clubs, regional sports networks and cable operators.
The deal has heavy political overtones. MLB Advanced Media, the highly successful, centralized digital wing of MLB, has done exceptionally well selling MLB.TV, the online counterpart to MLB Extra Innings, the MLB out of market package. But some clubs are looking to gain extra revenues at the local level without having to deal with revenue sharing. The Red Sox and Orioles are reportedly pushing hard to allow in-market streaming of games.
The difficulty is that the MLBAM Constitution was never drafted to deal with the rapid changes in technology that have developed since MLBAM was created. As further reported:
“This is all a very, very complicated matter,” said one club official. “Who really has these [digital] rights and how do we best bring them to the marketplace? That’s the big question. And though we’re in sort of a holding pattern right now, it’s no doubt the single biggest economic issue our industry is facing.”