Finally and officially, we will see in-market internet streaming of MLB games in 2016.
Well, not, like, we as in us. I just mean the royal we. The editorial we.
That’s because, while MLB has finally struck a deal to allow in-market streaming of its games – something that’s been subject to blackouts since time immemorial – it’s limited to (1) teams who are on a broadcast rights deal with a FOX regional sports network, and (2) fans who have an authenticated cable/satellite subscription that carries that FOX channel.
In other words, if you’re a Cardinals fan and you already subscribe to a package that carries Fox Sports Midwest, you’ll now be able to stream Cardinals games over the Internet – i.e., you can watch on your tablet or phone, or you can watch when you’re traveling.
Half of the league – exactly 15 teams – are on deals with FOX RSN’s, so this new deal will impact those 15 teams. The Cubs, as you know, have a unique broadcast rights situation, with their games split up among CSN, ABC-7, and WGN-9. So, for now, the Cubs are not affected directly by this new deal. Commissioner Rob Manfred did indicate, however, that the goal is to get in-market streaming in place for all 30 teams for the 2016 season.
Also not affected by the current deal: MLB.tv. The blackouts that are in place on MLB.tv exist to protect the value of those local RSN deals (if fans could just buy MLB.tv and watch all games, their incentive to demand that the RSN be on their cable package would be reduced, thus decreasing the value of the broadcast rights to that RSN, thus decreasing the payout to MLB teams in those enormous rights deals).
In other words, don’t get too excited if you hear someone talk about MLB finally ending local blackouts. That would be a significant overstatement.
With the Cubs currently in the process of working out the plans for their next big TV deal, knowing that MLB has a plan to allow the in-market streaming rights to be made available to the RSN that’s paying big bucks for broadcast rights could give that RSN* more comfort in committing the money without fear that increased cord-cutting will eat into the value of their deal.
Furthermore, I’d imagine the Cubs are happy to see this groundwork laid – and a model for future in-market streaming agreements put in place – before they sign on the dotted line on a 15 to 30-year deal. Rights fees have been exploding for years, and, although the potential for serious disruption in the cable market/model is ever-looming, I doubt the Cubs want to lock themselves into any kind of deal – even what looks on the surface to be a mega deal – without knowing how their streaming rights are going to be handled in the coming years.
*(And that’s true whether the Cubs secure a huge rights fees deal from an existing RSN, or whether they form their own in a partnership with a cable company or television network.)