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kid-watching-tvI’ll spare you the excessive preamble, and will instead say that you all likely now know how important the Cubs’ upcoming TV deal situation is to the future of the organization’s revenue picture.

The Cubs are looking to cash in on a portion of their TV rights (currently contracted to WGN) after the 2014 season, and the full slate of games (the remainder are contracted to CSN) after the 2019 season. If the status quo remains in baseball game delivery mechanisms, the Cubs will cash in enormously within the next five years, depending on when they’re able to lock down a long-term deal for the full slate of games.

But will the status quo remain?

For many months now, MLB has quietly been fighting a lawsuit in New York that seeks to end the territorial restrictions that help prop up the value of local TV, which have exploded in value over the past decade. Those territorial restrictions ensure that a regional sports network (RSN) that pays handsomely for exclusive broadcast rights will become the only way a fan in its territory can watch his favorite team (and, thus, he’ll push for his cable or satellite provider to pay the carriage fees to carry the RSN). If you’ve got MLB.tv, you probably already understand this issue well. For me, I’m blacked out of Reds, Pirates, and Indians games in Columbus, Ohio. Unless I get their games on a cable or satellite package, I can’t watch them.

Jeff Passan has the latest on this lawsuit, in which he says MLB has fallen back on its entirely unique (and, if I mean, entirely legally bizarre) antitrust exemption. Anyone who tells you they know how this lawsuit will shake out over the next year (or longer) is selling you some snake oil, because the bulk of it is under seal – and there are so many complexities and wrinkles to this kind of case that it just can’t be projected.

Instead, we can just follow it, and muse on the implications. The big one: if MLB is forced to rethink its blackout policy, does that mark the death knell to the Cubs’ big money TV deal efforts? Not necessarily. I might even go as far as “probably not.”

For one thing, it’s not as if the recent large deals – the Dodgers and Time Warner, the Phillies and Comcast – were struck without any contemplation of these kinds of potential legal issues. That is to say, I’m sure these entities, and their lawyers and accountants, have already figured out how an un-blacked-out MLB would impact their deals, and there are probably ways to keep the majority of the deal value in-market.

Perhaps it means showing local ads during MLB.tv broadcasts, the revenue for which goes to the RSN? Perhaps it means that fans in otherwise blacked-out areas can pay a surcharge (which is divvied up among the affected RSNs) for the right to view those games? Those are just a couple ideas, but you can see how there are ways to keep things status quo from the team and RSN perspective, while simultaneously improving things for fans.

  • ssckelley

    So is this why the Cub game was blacked out for me on Sunday? Living in NE Iowa, the game was on WGN, and it was blacked out “unavailable in your area”. But I was able to tune into Fox Sports Midwest and watch the Cardinals broadcast. Made absolutely no sense to me and I have never had a game blacked out before on WGN.

    • Melrosepad

      WGN was blacked out for you? I live in NW Iowa and have never had that happen.

      • ssckelley

        Me neither, not until Sunday. What service are you using?

        • Chris

          I live in NE IA (CR), and was able to watch the game on Sunday.. On DirecTV.

          • ssckelley

            Perhaps I need to switch from Dish.

            • Adam

              I have imon and I got the game.

          • Chris

            Actually CR isn’t even NE IA… More just E IA.. must be the DBQ’r in me.. :)

            • ssckelley

              I am up by Waterloo.

    • DarthHater

      Probably had nothing to do with the Cubs. My guess is that Fox has exclusive rights to show Cardinals games in your area.

    • mjhurdle

      i have always thought that the blackout rules were doomed once more and more websites came about where people could stream the games for free, if they felt so inclined.

      Once the cats is out of the bag, so to speak, there is no putting it back. The only way MLB can feasibly combat it is to make their product more appealing so that people don’t get so frustrated that they resort to those wonderful….err…questionable sites.

  • Caleb

    Great article by Passan, worth the read!

  • Jon

    History will place Selig as the worst commissioner in baseball history outside outright racists ones during the early 20th century. Does anyone believe a single word that comes out of this snakes mouth?

    • PejaO42

      All I know is that he nearly bored me to death giving his speech at my commencement last year. Dull beyond dull.

    • Jon

      Why does every other sport allow ala carte pricing via Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, ETC?

      The RSN rights only look to feed the pockets of the uber rich teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies with their massive TV deals. It’s not for the benefit of the rest of the teams, overall good of the game.

      What is Selig’s kickback on these deals? He’s nothing but a politician taking $$$ from corporate lobbyists.

      • TK

        Funny thing is . . . most Cubs fans are rooting for, and can’t wait for the TV deal.

        I myself hate the deals. I think next to PEDs they are the worst thing to ever happen to baseball. If you’re the FO, is it really worth it? The Cubs’ fan base is as big as it is because of WGN. WGN is the reason they are one of the nation’s favorite baseball teams. This RSN stuff effectively shrinks the fan base. Doesn’t seem to me like its really the best way to go in the long run. We’re not too far from the Cubs’ fan base being heavily restricted to the midwest . . . the younger generations around the country (outside of Chicagoland and Iowa) don’t give a chimp about the Cubs anymore, because they just aren’t as visible as they once were.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Actually, for my situation MLB is in much better shape than the NFL.

        I’m a cable cutter. I don’t have a subscription TV package of any kind with any provider. Everything is streaming online video for me.

        And that means I literally cannot watch live NFL games. Flatly can’t do it. The NFL does not allow you to unless you (1) are signing in via your cable provider, or (2) are using Verizon’s network. Not doing either? Tough. Here, have some reruns.

        They’re more than happy to show me archived games (if I pay for them), but not Live ones. Not at any price.

        With MLB, at least, I can see Live baseball (except the Post Season… thanks TBS). I may not be able to see a few teams that are blacked out in my area – not a big problem since I live on the East Coast and follow the Cubs (except when the Cubs play Philly, Washington, or Baltimore) – but I can at least see someone playing Live.

        MLB > NFL. At least in my situation.

        • TK

          I got rid of cable too. I could no longer justify the expense for the amount of time i watch TV. I bought a $30 antenna from Best Buy and get all the networks and local channels (Tampa). If I really want to see a game, and I have the time to do so, I’ll go to a friend’s house or watch it over lunch/dinner at a restaurant. Otherwise, there’s always something more important to do. And with fewer games on WGN then before, its really not worth it because I rarely get to see the Chicago teams, unless I pay even more for a package.

          • TK

            . . . we don’t get CSN.

  • Medicos

    HAPPY PASSOVER!!!!!!

    Bud & Theo

    • 5RunHomerun

      Yom Tov!

  • Austin

    I hate the blackouts with a passion. Being in SW Michigan and having Dish I am only able to watch WGN games. All CSN games are blacked out for me yet I’m able to watch any Bulls game on CSN when ever I want. And then I’m unable to watch games on MLB.TV because my IP address according to MLB.TV says I live in Indiana (which I don’t). But our real IP Address is at a Michigan location. And MLB.TV is full of themselves and believes their system isn’t wrong and it must be my internet providers problem. (Which it isn’t). Blackouts IMO are one of the biggest reasons if not biggest reason why no one likes baseball anymore from the new generations. No one can watch a damn game without spending $160 and even then you can’t watch any game you want.

    • CubFan Paul

      MLB.TV is outdated, like the former Commissioner.

      DirectTv or a Cable provider would definitely pay more.

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        The internet is outdated?

        • mjhurdle

          its a fad.
          It’ll be gone faster than those crazy eyepads that the kids are wearing.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Ha…remember when the name iPad was a big deal.

            That was soooooo 2010.

            • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

              Dude its all about Google Glass now

              • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

                GLASSHOLE

                • DarthHater

                  Get your head out of your oculus rift.

        • CubFan Paul

          No, but I’d rather watch the MLB tv package on subscribed tv channels than online.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Potato, potatoh, tomato, potatoe.

            In 20 years, everything is going to be online.

            • mjhurdle

              with decent internet speeds, the feed is literally the same between cable/satellite and online.
              And now that it is so easy to put the webz on the tvz, there really is very little difference.
              The services are merging with online services becoming more TV friendly, and cable/satellites offering mobile device based access.

    • TK

      Of course the “logic” is that if you can’t watch it, you’ll buy a ticket and go to the game. Problem is as they make it harder and more expensive to watch it, they also make it more expensive to buy a ticket (and food,drink,etc…), which is a great impedance for many to enjoy baseball more than occasionally. Not a great strategy IMO.

      • TK

        Then they ask why fans in Tampa (hit hard by the economy) don’t better support the Rays! Thats not even considering that most baseball fans in Tampa are from elsewhere and primarily fans of other teams. Hard to get a Cubs (or Yankee, Phillies, Mets, Sox) fans to support a team that a) is not their favorite, and b) they cannot watch on TV to build interest in unless they pay more money. RSN exclusivity is just plain old stupid.

        Just remembered . . . I forgot about my taxes! Oops!

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Another factor is that the stadium in Tampa is impossible to get to.

          • TK

            I went to 1 game there e few years ago when the Cubs were here. Battled the end of rush hour traffic, then sat in a huge blob of congestion circling the stadium area because the stadium parking had only a few bates open with NO signage to tell you which/where, and there was no signage for off-site parking so everyone was wondering about aimlessly exploring for somewhere to park. They had a few cops directing traffic, but thats all they were doin . . . They were not directing people to parking, just through intersections.

            Then during the game the Tampa fans in the area I was in were mean, rude, disgusting drunks. They were cursing at cubs fans, throwing things at Cubs fans, even shouting in the faces of young children. As we were leaving there was a group of drunk Rays fans encircled around a family 4, shouting and taunting them. Through all of it, security never did a damn thing.

            Needless to say, I’ve never been back.

      • cking6178

        TK – I agree with the premise that the idea of blackout restrictions is to get you to buy a ticket and go to the stadium…however, I think the NFL does it the right way…only blackout games in local markets where the game is not sold out….

        I live in Charlotte, NC. There are ZERO MLB teams in the Carolinas. The closest team is the Braves and they are 4.5hrs away. That said, this is what MLB says about the blackout restrictions where I live:

        The below-listed Club(s) is within the searched home television territory, and MLB.TV is subject to blackout for all regular season live games for these Club(s):
        Atlanta Braves
        Washington Nationals
        Baltimore Orioles
        Cincinnati Reds

        My DirecTV package does not include any of the RSN’s for these teams. Sounds to me like the “smart” guys in MLB need to go back to business school. The idea is to make it easier for fans, or potential fans, to access the games, not more difficult.

  • CubFan Paul

    “Unless I get their games on a cable or satellite package, I can’t watch them”

    That’s the same for everyone, correct? As in, paying for cable or satellite

    • JulioZuleta

      Can’t get games on MLB.TV if you live in the geographic area.

      • CubFan Paul

        I was referring to TV, not watching online.

        • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

          Well most TV these days allow you to watch MLB.tv through the TV directly and if you don’t have a TV then their is Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast to watch your games through the TV.

          Paying ridiculous prices for cable being less and less necessary. You can see most TV and Movies through any number of sites and if you only care about baseball then there is no need for cable.

          • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

            **don’t have a SMART TV**

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              ** there **

              • mjhurdle

                **Almond Joy**

                • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

                  ** GARBAGE **

          • Patrick W.

            You left out Amazon’s FireTV.

            • DarthHater

              Does Amazon Amy come with it?

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      I live in Des Moines without a sat/cable package and I get WGN still.

      So far this year, I haven’t had a blackout.

      • DarthHater

        “So far this year, I haven’t had a blackout.”

        Keep drinking. The season is young.

      • ssckelley

        How do you manage that?

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Get WGN “over the air”? No clue. I live inside Des Moines so I get whatever free feed Mediacom provides to everyone. I started to get ESPN2 recently as well.

  • Medicos

    I can sympathize with all u Cub fans outside the Windy City area. Hopefully once the Cubs set up their own broadcasting station ( ala NY Yankees) no one will be denied the opportunity to watch the Cubs rise to the top of the MLB world. Just last week, 2x I was able watch all 4 of our professional teams (Cubs, White Sox, BlackHawks, and Bulls) play on the same day Let’s face it ——IT”S OUR GODGIVEN RIGHT to watch the Cubs play and then be able express our true feelings how the Cubs lose year after year!!!!

  • Dustin S

    Reality is that the blackouts just push people to watch content that is blacked out in other ways that don’t generate any revenue at all for teams. And as bandwidth improves that problem will continue to get only worse. The music industry learned it the hard way but eventually adjusted. So hopefully MLB is finally beginning to realize that technology is eclipsing the antiquated blackout model. Just like with iTunes, Netflix, etc. I think most people will happily pay for the content if they can watch the games they want. So if MLB can be creative and shuffle around the revenue to adjust the RSN dollars for eliminating (or at least greatly reducing) blackouts, it’s possible they might even increase revenue.

  • JulioZuleta

    The antitrust exemption is insane. We are studying the line of cases pertaining to it in a class I’m taking. Basically, the opinion that set the precedent was written by a judge that was a die hard baseball fan. He listed his 25(+?) favorite baseball players along with anecdotes about most of them, and then basically said that baseball is magical and deserves this type of protection. Odd. And insane that it hasn’t been overturned.

    • Karl Groucho

      Douglas in Flood makes too much sense, but 90 years of legislative inaction (or 60 if you want to believe it wasn’t truly interstate commerce as of FBC) sends a pretty clear message imo.

      • DarthHater

        Damn right. Congress knows perfectly well how to not be insane, if that’s what it wants. Err … ummm … wait a minute …

        • Karl Groucho

          There’s interesting scholarship on the “acquiescence canon” — and I certainly agree that it has its problems. But we’re talking abt perhaps the most well-known piece of antitrust doctrine, in place for nearly a century. If there’s any time I’d defer to the canon, it’s probably in this context.

  • Los-Cachorros

    Same here i live in Waukesha, Wi and I am unable to watch Cubs games on MLB.TV. I for one would gladly pay the price to watch them.

    • brunsmk

      I believe depending on your TV provider you could get Comcast Sports Net Chicago and be able to watch all the games on TV. It would cost you less then MLB.TV for the sports package. I had thoughts of moving back there just to be able to do that.

  • Bric

    MLB is the worst pro marketing product in the country right now. Its farm system, revenue principles, drafting system, PR and fan access (TV, internet, print and radio) have not kept up with the technology or ideology of its own fan base and its popularity is suffering. Bud may not be to totally to blame but it completely happened on his watch. There’s a reason why institutions that want to stay around have checks and balances. Putting an owner in the position of commissioner was a big mistake that owners 15 years ago probably regret. But since a lot of those franchises have changed hands since then (in some cases multiple times) the leagues has become more of a short sell type of situation anyway. Very sad.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      ” Putting an owner in the position of commissioner was a big mistake that owners 15 years ago probably regret.”

      Considering how much their investments have appreciated…I doubt it.

      He hasn’t been that bad.

  • diamonddon

    Can’t wait for MLB and Bud to get this blackout issue straightened out. Bud is the worst Commissioner in the history of baseball!! I live in Madison, WI and have most of the Cub’s games blacked out because I live in the Brewer’s area. I just don’t get it why all the Cubs games on the CSN on DISH are blocked out? Why am paying for CSN as part of my package when I can’t even watch any of games? The games on WGN are very seldom blacked out, but there seem to be less and less games on WGN.

  • esruc

    I agree that baseball could market their stars better, but there are clearly things they are doing right, which I think they should emphasize. Curious why you feel baseball’s farm system and draft format is so flawed? I think many would consider it better than any other minor league format in other sports. Players can go pro out of high school, unlike other sports and in the meantime fans are given the chance to see future stars for an affordable price. I remember seeing a young centerfielder named Mike Trout in Cedar Rapids, IA several years ago. I’ve purchased a 10 game package for the Iowa Cubs for the price of $25. Other fans seem to disagree with you as well, multiple minor league teams drew just under 4,000 less fans per games than the bottom half of the NHL,NBA, and MLS last year.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      The problem with MLB over NFL is that in key situations, the NFL will always have their stars involved.

      With MLB, you have a tiny chance of your superstar hitters being involved in late-game situations and RARELY have your superstar SP involved.

      It’s just the nature of the game. I would LOVE to see managers given 2 free lineup substutitions per game. Then the Tigers could always have Cabrera bat in the 9th; the only problem then is that the record books would get demolished when sluggers are getting 900 PA a year and that would be too radical for a sport like baseball.

  • TommyK

    Remember when commenters were saying what a great deal it was to be able to see an MLB game for $20.00? There’s already tickets to Cubs games on Stubhub for $6 a pop. The children are right to laugh at us. #Simpsonsreference

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      I thought it was impossible to go to a Cubs game for less than $200 for a family…

  • cubbieblue1991

    When I was at school in Carbondale, IL it blacked out Cubs, Cards, Pirates, Brewers, White Sox and Tigers games.. might have been a black hole of a city. (Cards are the local team there which is frustraiting when you have MLB.tv to watch Cubs games). I hope they drop the blackout restrictions. Cable costs way too much money and if I’m only going to watch a couple channels.. those are the ones I want to pay for, go ahead call me crazy.

  • cubs2003

    I’m not an expert, or even knowledgable about the tv deals, but I’ll be honest. I love the Cubs, but the hoops one has to jump through to watch a Cubs game are insane in Iowa. There are other things to do and I’ll do them instead. There’s always a box score and BN. If I were MLB, I’d be worried about losing a generation of fans. And the one after that, etc. The trends are already in that direction as far as I know. It seems like MLB should be begging people to care about baseball and they’re doing the opposite. If you’re not internet accessible to everyone at all times you’re becoming irrelevant in this layman’s determination.

    • FFP

      Many years ago I decided to watch every game one year. If I couldn’t be at the game, I’d watch on TV. If I couldn’t be near TV, I’d at least be listening on broadcast radio. I didn’t miss a pitch.
      Since then I am ‘a fan in the papers’ (I started using that phrase when there were boxscores and newspapers worth reading.) Now I never miss a season, but you know, I’ve got a life.
      I can watch football for free, over-the-air, and never miss a game or a family function.
      Baseball better find some new way to broadcast/monetize, because the next generation fanbase isn’t going to be ‘jumping through hoops’ to hand MLB time and money. I do think it will be some internet-multi-channel broadcast as some have suggested (Why can’t I select my own camera angles? That seems stupid-easy.)
      Until then, for baseball, I’m just a fan in the papers.

      • Sandberg

        Brett gives such quality recaps and the comments are generally so good that I don’t even have to watch the games. In fact, I’d rather not waste time watching this team pull out ways to lose. I’ve seen that for far too many years.

        So, thanks Brett for fueling my Cubs passion while still allowing me to be productive. ;)

        • cking6178

          “So, thanks Brett for fueling my Cubs passion while still allowing me to be productive. ;)

          Ha – I would amend your comment to say:

          Thanks Brett for fueling my Cubs passion, but my productivity has suffered as a result and my employer is not happy about it…LoL

          Cheers!

        • CubFan Paul

          “I’d rather not waste time watching this team pull out ways to lose”

          That’s just Brett’s narrative or your interpretation of his work. As a fan, if you can, you should watch the games for yourself.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            I think he was just having fun.

            But, seriously, my version of what happened is always better than what actually happened.

            • CubFan Paul

              Yes, yes, we know how you stress the importance of bat flips and cats!

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                If there’s something else important about baseball games, I don’t know what it is.

                • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

                  There are other things to baseball?

                  Now, if you could get a video of a cat wearing pajamas doing a bat flip…

                • ClevelandCubsFan

                  I hope you’re tracking, Brett. Because I think we need an end of the year Top 10 Bat Flips compilation. If any of those bats accidentally flies in the direction of a hapless kitten who does something amazingly cute in his terrified stupor, that bat flip is deemed the winner without contest.

        • FFP

          “So, thanks Brett for fueling my Cubs passion while still allowing me to be productive”
          This. Emphatically, this.

  • ssckelley

    A little off topic, but I think MLB should have a Redzone similar to the NFL has on Dish. They go live to the game that has anyone in scoring position and they show every run scored. This might appeal to the kids more, my 9 year old love NFL Redzone if the Bears are not on.

    • baldtaxguy

      I get the impression that MLB network does this at least in some small part, maybe its more just after the fact (of scores).

      • ssckelley

        They do but it is not quite the same. It would help if they had more consistent start times across the board like the NFL.

        • cking6178

          Yea, the MLB package tried to replicate the RedZone channel…I forget what the name of it is (was)…the problem, as you stated, is that the games don’t have uniform start times and fantasy baseball isn’t nearly as popular as fantasy football…there isn’t much of a draw to RedZone type of baseball channel, imo…

          • CubFan Paul

            “I forget what the name of it is (was)”

            MLB Strikezone. I get it with Uverse.

            “there isn’t much of a draw to RedZone type of baseball channel, imo”

            It is when you have two TVs in your sitting room. I’m still wondering if Stanton’s moon-shoot has come down yet.

          • ssckelley

            If I am not mistaken I believe it was baseball that introduced the fantasy sport games to us with the old rotisserie format. I remember playing an online game called Baseball Manager through Prodigy well before fantasy football took off.

            But you are right in that fantasy football is what drives interest in Redzone.

    • esruc

      They have MLB whiparound of Fox Sports 1, which is essentially their version of Baseball Tonight, but is mostly live look ins of game in key situations.

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