In an effort to put stuff on this website semi-regularly and not be complete white noise, I’ve been racking my brain over the past several days trying to figure out a good topic, but it’s like AC says, they need to just start playing games already. As it turns out, we are not that far from the start of the Cactus League slate as the Cubs will host the Giants at Sloan Park on Saturday. At some point, there will be a good number of players shipping out for a bit to play in the World Baseball Classic, and then they’ll come back and ramp up for the home opener at the end of March. So there will be some practice games that we might not necessarily care too much about other than that it’s baseball and it distracts me from work in a good way, and then we get the games that matter. But at this time, hope springs eternal and we are at least a few months from mathematical elimination, so why not just enjoy it?
We’ve talked at length about the roster, which will shake itself out through injuries and performance by Opening Day so we’ll just take a wait and see approach there. Also talked some about how the team that adjusts best to the new rules will snag a few marginal wins, so that will be interesting during the practice games to see how the players take to it. As we count down to practice game number one, I’ve seen quite a few articles about slow downs due to injury, including to some of the Cubs pitchers like Kyle Hendricks, so a lot will change by the time the first game that counts rolls around, so I thought I’d talk about something else that may be equal parts interesting and alarming in this new situation with baseball economics.
If you’re like me, you haven’t had a cable package in a long time, which has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, I still have access to a vast library of content at relatively affordable price points, but I also do not have as much access to live sports because I don’t have those particular streaming packages as a choice because I don’t like the blackout restrictions for anything I pay for. It doesn’t help that I live in a valley where broadcast signals aren’t able to get to my rabbit ears very efficiently and I’m also no longer in Chicago so I can’t just tune in to the radio. This mostly explains why I only saw maybe 10 Cubs games all last season, including the one I went to in San Francisco, because I didn’t want to use, uh, alternative streaming options, and also because the team just kinda sucked and I had better things to do with my limited time. It was nice to get the free final month of MLB.tv before the postseason to check out the Cubs playing well toward the end, but I really don’t want to deal with a subscription until they MLB, the Cubs, and whoever they’re using to disseminate their broadcasts (with explicit consent) can remove the blackout issues.
This brings us to the recent news when the MLB Commissioner talked about how a huge carrier potentially declaring bankruptcy could affect team broadcasts. The gist is that the carrier, Diamond Sports Group (which does the Bally networks), missed their revenue marks due to everyone cutting the cord and now may default on their payments, and Rob Manfred is using that to talk about two items that would have lasting repercussions. The first is the eventual shift to a service run by MLB itself to deliver in-market games to consumers with no blackouts, which won’t be anytime soon, but would be good for most, if not all, baseball fans, myself included. The second thing, which is not so good, is how this will affect player payrolls, since a good portion of sports revenue these days comes from these carriage rights. The MLBTR article does note the tie to the Economic Reform Committee, or as I like to call it, the cheap owners complaining because the owners who want to win aren’t being as cheap as they are.
I tried looking up which spring training games would be free to stream on MLB.tv but I guess that information isn’t available just yet. I don’t think I’m alone in stating that, if Marquee or MLB.tv could charge me the $25/month now and promise me no blackouts and plenty of options to jump into games or shows that I actually cared about, I’d gladly pay it. That option is obviously not available now, or anytime soon, but hundreds of thousands (and potentially millions) of fans paying $25/month each over the course of the year would add up to a lot, and I’m not as good at math as I used to be. They’d probably get more overall revenue by bumping demand with a price cut to $10-$15/month, on par with Disney+ and the other entertainment platforms, but I’m willing to go to $25 because I’d use it much more consistently than my Hulu or Disney+ etc. I stopped watching NBA and NHL when many of the games got ported to cable channels (remember when the NHL went to the Outdoor Life Network?) and that was the same with the Cubs when they ended their partnerships with the broadcast channels. I am totally fine with compensating folks for content, but give me some good options, please! Otherwise I guess I’ll just have to watch the highlights once they’re uploaded to MLB.com, just as I did the past few years after cutting the cord.