The inanity of MLB blackout rules strikes DC-area Orioles fans

Patrick McDermott

It's 2013, but many Orioles fans were completely unable to watch today's game in any medium, thanks to archaic rules from MLB and FOX.

What with it being 2013 and all, one would assume that if their baseball team were in the midst of a hot playoff race, they would be able to watch said team play, particularly if they lived in that team's broadcast region. But if one were an Orioles fan in the DC area today, one would be incorrect.

You see, FOX picked up today's Orioles game for a national broadcast, but in most markets outside of Baltimore and Chicago, the actual FOX broadcast was the Yankees-Red Sox matchup. In spite of this, FOX's broadcast of the game caused a national blackout for alternative means of viewing the game, such as MLB.TV. This all means that, if you live in the US, but in an area where FOX was broadcasting Yankees-Red Sox, you had no legal means to watch today's game, even if you were willing to pay for the privilege, beyond your normal cable package.

Policy changes going into effect in 2014 will improve this situation somewhat, though of course that provides no remedy for anyone who wanted to watch today's game, and couldn't do so. Next year, at least, MLB.TV users will be able to watch nationally broadcast games that are not available over the air on their own local affiliate. That's a partial fix, but it's incomplete.

MLB needs to require that networks who purchase national rights to a game broadcast that game in the entire normal region of the teams playing. That means FOX shouldn't be allowed to buy the rights to an Orioles game without broadcasting it on ALL of its local affiliates in Baltimore, DC, North Carolina and southern Pennsylvania. If you can get MASN as part of your cable package, FOX should be required to provide you any games it picks up in MASN's place.

Going even further in the realm of fan-friendly policies, if MLB is going to sell national rights to multiple games to the same network (like FOX), it should require FOX to put whichever game isn't on FOX in a particular market on another channel, like FX or Fox Sports 1 (the same would apply for ESPN/ESPN2 or TBS/TNT). Really, the first thought of the league and the networks alike should be, "If paying customers want our product, how can we give it to them?" Anything less might be more profitable in the very short term, but damages both entities in the long run.

Again, it's 2013. People rightly assume that if a video broadcast is available for a live sporting event, and they are paying for methods that would normally air it, they should be able to legally view it. Today, sitting in my home less than 60 miles from Camden Yards, MLB, FOX and the Orioles combined to completely let me down in that regard. The league, networks, franchises and advertisers might all assume that they are one another's customers, but the truth is that the fan is the ultimate customer for all of them. The archaic, backward-looking blackout policies being run by all of these entities don't reflect this simple reality, and they need to be fixed.

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