Creating One Big MLB Streaming Product, AFL Kicks Off, Velazquez, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Creating One Big MLB Streaming Product, AFL Kicks Off, Velazquez, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Today is gonna be nuts in the Taylor Household, with all kinds of aberrational, overlapping activities for all the kids and the parents. Kudos to The Wife for being the master of the calendar. I absolutely do my part in the household, but when it comes to handling the family schedule, it’s all her, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I am terrible at that stuff.

•   There will be much more to say on the move as it becomes official, but if you missed it last night, the Cubs seem to be on the verge of landing their new GM, Carter Hawkins, an assistant GM with the Cleveland Indians. It’s possible we get an officially official announcement tomorrow in the early part of the day in the transition window between the LDS and LCS (the ALCS starts tomorrow night), but it’s also possible we don’t get it until after both LCS are complete OR until after the World Series is over. You’d prefer the new guy could get into the mix as soon as possible, but at least he’s going to be in the job comfortably before the GM Meetings in November. That was really the “no, yeah, you really need to have the job filled before then” deadline.

•   The AFL got underway yesterday, with the Mesa Solar Sox featuring two Cubs prospects in the Opening Day lineup – shortstop Luis Vazquez led off, and outfielder Nelson Velazquez hit cleanup. The Solar Sox were dominated all day, and no one had a good game except Velazquez, who singled and doubled twice. The 22-year-old, who can handle center field but might be more of a corner guy, had something of a breakout in 2021, enough so that he’s right there on the border of having to be protected on the 40-man roster so he doesn’t get poached in the Rule 5 Draft. Without a ton of upper level power bats outside of Brennen Davis, I’m thinking the Cubs are not going to want to risk losing Velazquez, even if no one thinks he’s ready for the big leagues. Sometimes, a rebuilding club will just poach talent and let them sit on the bench all year. I think I’d rather the Cubs didn’t take that risk, even knowing Velazquez might then be eating up a 40-man roster spot for more than a year without having a real shot at the big league roster in 2022.

•   Then again, hey, that’s partly what this time in the AFL is for. Continue evaluating Velazquez against advanced pitching. We’ll see how it goes.

•   Sorry for the density of the next half dozen bullets. The topic of broadcast and streaming rights is both critically important to the future of the sport, but also not something you can cover with a super light touch. It’s just complicated stuff. If you want more background before (or after) you dive in, see some of our other recent discussions here and here.

•   MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a sports conference, and easily the most impactful and important topic he got into was the state of game delivery. He at least said the right thing about what the focus should be:

•   I like the message there – just get all the games to all the fans as easily as possible – though I’ll believe in the execution when I see it. Over the past 20 years, it is inarguable that MLB and its owners have generally prioritized short-term gains at the expense of long-term fan cultivation. The sport lives on for decades, but because of the team value boom, ownership might be much shorter. So it’s not entirely irrational for owners to prioritize the short-term when it conflicts with the long-term, but dang, you wish some folks in charge would be better stewards of THE SPORT than that. And it’ll start with make sure more and more people can easily access your games. We live in a technological era where it should be easier than ever.

•   One of the hurdles is that Sinclair Broadcast Group owns all those former FOX Regional Sports Networks (RSNs), which hold the game rights to just about half of MLB’s teams (and also just about half of the NBA and half of the NHL). Sinclair has a vision for a direct-to-consumer product, and that may conflict with MLB’s vision on how to improve easy access for fans.

•   More on the Sinclair aspect, specifically, here and here, where it increasingly seems confirmed that the plan was to gobble up as many RSNs as possible so that Sinclair could have singular control over distribution (and price). But as we’ve discussed for years now, the challenge in creating a direct-to-consumer product (“DTC,” i.e., another standalone streaming service) that features RSNs is that the monthly price tag would have to be enormous to compete with the carriage-fee version that is currently wrapped up in cable bundles (because a whole lotta people are “paying” for RSNs that don’t actually care about them – so if you go DTC, then you ONLY get the people who REALLY want to pay extra for the RSN). To be honest/cynical, the articles – and the comments from Manfred and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – read to me like the sides are simply involved in a nasty negotiation about how to create the best DTC product, and everyone is trying to grab leverage.

•   On that point, here’s your biggest takeaway as a Cubs fan, where Marquee has the game rights as the cable partner, and the Ricketts Family is the majority owner of Marquee (Sinclair is a minority partner): although teams currently control their own in-market streaming rights (meaning they can either let their cable partners serve the games up digitally, or the team COULD create their own DTC product), Manfred basically said he wants all of MLB to be under one umbrella. He didn’t say it explicitly, but it sounded like he was talking about something like, except NOT just for out-of-market. Remember: the only reason regional blackouts are a thing in MLB is to protect the value of cable rights. But if that whole world is going away, then there will cease to be a reason to so savagely protect local broadcasts with blackouts on streaming services.

•   Obviously that’s the DREAM scenario for baseball as a whole, but the internal problem they’ll run into is figuring out the revenue sharing – the Cubs, for example, would drive a crapload more subscriptions to that service than the Pirates, so who gets what portion of the revenue? (The Cubs might argue for a bigger chunk, but MLB might argue for an even split to reinforce parity AND because the Cubs don’t get to be the Cubs if they don’t have other teams to play.)

•   Stray thought: I wonder if MLB, the NBA, and the NHL could try to create one streaming service for all three sports (including ALL non-national games, with no regional blackouts), which would be uber convenient for fans, though the price tag would be really huge to account for the new version of a “bundle.” (And all of this gets even more complicated when you consider that ESPN/Disney could get involved (recall, they are now the majority owners of the streaming technology originally invented to stream, BAMTech), and they have their OWN issues trying to sort out the streaming versus cable bundle mess.)

•   Last night’s Blackhawks opener did not go well. And I stand prepared to overreact if that’s what I’m told to do! Honestly I don’t know what to think yet because it’s not my lane. That’s kinda my placement as a Blackhawks fan right now: aspirational. I like hockey well enough as a sport to watch, but I’ve never really cared about any particular team. The process of building up a fandom, as an adult, is slow. I’m working on it, both with the Blackhawks and the Bulls (Cubs and Bears are … squared away … ). I’m a little further along with the Bulls because I was big into the NBA when I was a kid and the Bulls were doing their dominant thing. So it’s easier to connect those old feelings a bit, even if the team is obviously completely different and 25+ years have passed. Anyone else picked up a wholly new fandom as an adult? Maybe I’m alone in the challenge, but I feel like it says a lot about how impactful our exposure to sports are as a kid.

•   Which, in turn, brings me back to the MLB discussion above: you gotta make it widely, widely available if you want future generations of fans. And you also have to keep investing in making sure kids play baseball.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.