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Inside MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV and Television Blackouts Print
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Written by Maury Brown   
Saturday, 03 April 2010 10:28

BlackoutBREAKING UPDATE (4/5/10) - MLB and FOX have reached an agreement to alter the national exclusvity agreement for blackouts on Saturdays. See MLB, FOX Alter Agreement Allowing More Games on MLB Extra Innings


Sunday will mark Opening Night for the 2010 Major League Baseball season when the Yankees and Red Sox play on ESPN (8pm ET). Last season, many local markets, as well as the postseason, saw television ratings increase, the league launched MLB Network, MLB.TV subscriptions were brisk, and sales of MLB.com’s At Bat application for mobile devices, which allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to watch streaming games live, was one of the best sellers on Apple’s iTunes store. Despite a sour economy, it all add up to a record $6.6 billion in gross revenues for MLB.

And yet, this year, as has been the case every year since the launch of MLB Extra Innings, the out-of-market television package on cable and DirecTV, fans continue to be caught in an arcane television blackout policy.

The league will cite that they state “blackout restrictions apply” but the details are buried in exceptionally fine print, and as many of you know, most fail to read those legal terms before purchasing (for DirecTV, you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of this page to find the link). To be fair to MLB, let’s put it this way: the television blackout issue is the #1 customer service call or email the league sees.

Here’s how DirecTV defines the blackout policy:

All local and national blackout restrictions still apply. In other words, subscribers within a club's Home Television Territory cannot get that clubs's games in this national package. In addition, due to the national exclusivity of both FOX and ESPN, there are no games available for distribution via this package on Saturday day or Sunday night, respectively.

If you live in a ZIP code that is within a Major League Baseball team's territory, that team's games will be blacked out from the MLB EXTRA INNINGS game package, but will generally be available as part of your regional sports network or team's over-the-air affiliate television station. Blackouts protect the local rightsholders who arrange separate distribution agreements with the teams for their exclusive territories.

The problem is, DirecTV provides no map, no zip code locator… nothing. Just a case of, “If you’re in the local market, blackout restrictions apply.” The thing that DTV isn’t saying is that you can be in more than one “local market”. In some locations, up to 6 clubs claim a market (Las Vegas, you are one of them). They also don’t tell you that “local market” can be a massive swath on the map. Believe it or not, Montana, you are in the “local market” for the Mariners. Folks living in North Carolina, you are the “local market” for the Orioles and Nationals.

See the map below for MLB’s television territories:

MLB Blackout Map

MLB's blackout map is a confusing case of
overlapping territories
(CLICK TO SEE IN LARGER VIEW)

While MLB.com has fine print in a light font on a white page for MLB.TV’s blackout restrictions (scroll to the bottom of this page), at least they provide more details (and this is important) two methods that allow you to see what games you are going to be blacked out for. DirecTV users, this may be where you save yourself some grief (and possibly money) by using MLB’s information to determine whether to shell out around $200 for a first-time Extra Innings subscriber.

MLB adds this information on local blackouts, as well, on their MLB.TV page:

All live games on MLB.TV and available through MLB.com At Bat are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club's home television territory, regardless of whether that Club is playing at home or away. If a game is blacked out in an area, it is not available for live game viewing. If you are an MLB.TV Premium subscriber and not within either Club's home television territory, the applicable game will be available as an archived game as soon as possible after the conclusion of the game. If you are an MLB.TV Premium subscriber within either Club's home television territory or an MLB.TV subscriber in any territory, the applicable game will be available as an archived game approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the game. Archived games are not available through MLB.com At Bat.

In addition, note:

    • These blackout restrictions apply regardless of whether a Club is home or away and regardless of whether or not a game is televised in a Club's home television territory.
    • All live Toronto Blue Jays games are blacked out throughout the entire country of Canada.
    • Additional teams may also be subject to blackout in parts of Canada based on their region.
    • All live games will be blacked out in the U.S. territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands during the MLB regular season.

Remember, this is for Monday-Friday. The weekend is where matters change dramatically.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably confused and scratching your head… “Zip code… territories…”. This next part is easier to understand, and is one aspect of blackouts that may drive consumers the most insane:

On a large portion of Saturdays and Sundays the entire country is blacked out on MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV due to exclusive agreements with ESPN and FOX

ESPN SATURDAY AND FOX SUNDAY NATIONALBLACKOUTS

MLB gives this information on how ESPN’s and FOX’s national blackout deal works. FOX holds the rights to Saturday games, while ESPN gets games in the evening on Sundays.

Due to Major League Baseball exclusivities, live games occurring each Saturday with a scheduled start time after 1:10 PM ET or before 7:05 PM ET and each Sunday with a scheduled start time after 5:00 PM ET, will be blacked out in the United States (including the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands). In addition, in the event of extraordinary circumstances that produce a programming conflict, the above blackout windows may be subject to change. If you are an MLB.TV Premium subscriber outside of the United States, each of these games will be available as an archived game as soon as possible after the conclusion of the applicable game. If you are an MLB.TV Premium Subscriber within the United States or an MLB.TV subscriber in any territory, each of these games will be available as an archived game approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the applicable game. Archived games are not available through MLB.com At Bat.

There’s more… What if the season goes beyond 162 games, such as we saw last year with a play-in game?

Regular Season Play-In Game: Due to Major League Baseball exclusivities, any play-in game to determine the final team(s) to reach the MLB Postseason, i.e. a 163rd game, will be blacked out in the United States (including the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

And, blackouts impact the postseason…

Postseason Live Blackout: Due to Major League Baseball exclusivities, during the MLB Postseason, all live games will be blacked out in the United States (including the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and Canada. If you are an MLB.TV Premium Subscriber outside of the United States and Canada, each of these games will be available as an archived game as soon as possible after the conclusion of the applicable game. If you are an MLB.TV Premium Subscriber within the United States or Canada or an MLB.TV subscriber in any territory, each of these games will be available as an archived game approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the applicable game. Archived games are not available through MLB.com At Bat.

If it looks like there’s a heavy cut and paste party going on here, it is. The point here is to move the restrictions out from small print to large so that those looking to purchase can make informed decisions.

The final word on this? Depending on where you are, the ability to get MLB games out-of-market is fantastic. But, the key part is “where you live” (or, if you are online, the location of your IP, or if mobile, your geolocation).

WHEN/IF IT WILL BE CHANGED

The question you are asking is, “Why is this going on, and will there be changes?” The answer is money, don’t look for anything soon.

At the local level (go back to that map) for years now MLB has been saying that they plan to address the blackout policy, and each year begins and ends the same way: status quo. In terms of the deals with FOX and ESPN, the policy is locked into the contract agreements, and will most likely be renewed when they come up for renewal.

While MLB could certainly change the policy in mid-season, there has not been a whisper about the blackout situation since the economy tanked, and this off-season was no different. Remember that age old adage before you purchase MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV: Let the buyer beware.

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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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