Saturday October 09, 2021
MLB to Fans: Drop Dead
This is the way it used to work when I was a kid in the 1970s.
You’d see your favorite team (in my case, the Minnesota Twins) on your local TV station (Metromedia Television 11), but not much of the rest of the league. Most home games were blacked out, if I recall, but you’d get a lot of the away games. There was also a “Game of the Week” every Saturday afternoon, hosted by Curt Gowdy, so you could see other teams, even National League teams. Then there was the postseason. I still remember running home from elementary school to catch World Series games in the afternoon but that changed rapidly. The first night-time World Series game was in 1971, Game 4, and TV ratings doubled (shocker), so the next season every weekday World Series game was played in the evening. Back then, the World Series was set up 2-3-2 and began on Saturday, so, assuming no postponements and seven games, plus two travel days, four of the seven were still day games. That changed in ’77 when they began to start the Series on a Tuesday. Now you’re down to two day games. And in ’85, when the LCSes went to best-of-seven and the Series start returned to Saturdays, MLB said screw it, night games all the time. The last day World Series game happened in 1987, Game 6, and that was apparently the result of fan pressure. Joke was on them: The game was played at the Metrodome.
Anyway, the point is, when I was a kid, you’d see other teams occasionally, and your team a lot.
This season I saw other teams a lot and my team barely. I saw other teams because I paid $29.99 a month for MLB.TV. I barely saw my team, the scrappy Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games despite a negative run differential and the worst team batting average in the Majors, because those games are blacked out on MLB.TV. I assume they’re blacked out because ROOT Sports Northwest has exclusivity within its market (five states, believe it or not: WA, OR, ID, MT and AK), and somehow MLB hasn’t brokered a deal with them so fans can have easy access to the team.
To watch the Mariners, I had three options:
- Get cable again (fuck that)
- Get a VPN and change my IP address so it’s outside those five states (I’m not much of a cheater, nor tech savvy, but I should’ve explored this better)
- Stream the games via a DirecTV sports package for $84.99 a month (fuck that)
But at least I had the MLB.TV account and other teams.
Until the postseason. Then those games went away, too. Wednesday night, I contacted MLB’s customer service to ask why. Here’s the response I got, via text, after about a 15-minute wait:
Your subscription included only regular season games. To access postseason games, you must purchase a postseason subscription for MLB.TV and authenticate with a Pay TV provider.
When I asked for the names of Pay TV providers, they sent me this link with a throng of alphabet-soup companies: Among them, Arvig, Cox, DirecTV, RCN, ATT U-Verse, and Wow! (BTW: Isn’t Wow! in the first column the same as WOW! in the second? Can’t MLB at least hire a copy editor?)
Of course, I didn’t have any of them. I was SOL.
But so is MLB, it seems. It has a dwindling fan base that skews old, fewer and fewer people have cable (down from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center), and MLB has made no good, easy way for that dwindling fan base to watch either their own team or the playoffs. Baseball is keeping its own fans from enjoying its own product. Remarkable.
But then, I don’t think the people running Major League Baseball think of fans like me as their customer base. Their customer base is Arvig, Cox, RCN, Wow!, etc. Keep them happy, they seem to think, and everything will be just fine.