Among the most frustrating things baseball fans have battled in recent years is the Fox Saturday baseball problem. On the one hand, it’s great that there are national games that allow fans to see teams they might not otherwise be able to see, but if your team happened to also be playing, and happened to also be a Fox game, you were screwed. Why? Because if it wasn’t the game Fox had selected for your region, you were blacked out from watching it in any other way. MLB.tv? No dice. Extra Innings? Nope.
Well, that looks like it’s going to change, as MLB and Fox have relaxed their blackout restrictions as part of the new national deal kicking in this season. As reported by Maury Brown, if you’ve got MLB.tv or Extra Innings, you will now be able to use those services to watch the other Fox games on Saturdays. Huzzah!
The Fox deal kicking in this year also dramatically increases the number of games on Fox (and Fox Sports 1) from 26 to 52, most of which will be on Saturdays, including 20 doubleheaders. Currently, there are just three Cubs games on the schedule: May 3 against the Cardinals, June 21 against the Pirates, and June 28 against the Nationals. By contrast, the Cardinals have 10 games, the Reds have 8 games, and the Pirates have 7 games. Lesson? Be better at baseball if you want national exposure. No surprise there.
Back to the blackouts. As I’ve written/speculated before, there would be a larger issue when it comes to doing away with blackouts based on territorial rights (i.e, the reason you poor folks in Iowa can’t watch like six teams on MLB.tv). I’ve always surmised that at least part of the reason regional sports networks are willing to pay such exorbitant rates for the rights to broadcast a local team’s games is because they know, once they secure those rights, they will be the only way local fans can watch their team. If fans could just buy MLB.tv and otherwise cut the cable cord, would the cable providers pay huge carriage fees for the RSN’s channel? And, if not, would the RSN pay such a huge fee to get the rights to the games? If blackout restrictions were completely dropped, I think there would be an impact on these huge TV deals.
That is obviously of significant interest to the Cubs as they look ahead to negotiating TV rights on a little less than half of their games (the WGN rights expire after this season) in the near-term, and the full slate of rights (the CSN rights expire after 2019) in the longer-term. If blackouts have changed drastically by then? Maybe the Cubs can’t cash in quite as enormously.