It sounds like what we’ve speculated about for months is actually, thankfully, what Major League Baseball really is working on. This is big, big news long-term.
That is to say, it’s another major step in the process of getting more baseball, easily and seamlessly, to more fans: MLB is reportedly in talks to launch a nationwide streaming service for local games without a cable subscription and WITHOUT blackouts.
Josh Kosman with the exclusive report in the New York Post:
— Josh Kosman (@joshkosman) October 17, 2021
As we’ve discussed for a very long time, MLB had to realize that not only that the cable bundle was dying as it relates to its own teams’ broadcast rights, and that figuring out a friction-free, direct-to-consumer streaming future was the only way. While that previously looked like Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) being able to create their own direct-to-consumer products (i.e., a Marquee app that anyone can subscribe to and get all the Cubs content, including games, regardless of geography), the Post report is instead all about a national, MLB-driven product. I would have to assume the RSNs – and/or team rightsholders – would have to figure out how to distribute the revenue from there.
Bonus on that front? Per the Post, some of the revenue-distribution at the team level could be based on eyeballs: “As for the teams, MLB’s streaming service would pay them based on viewership in their local markets.” Guess what that means? Another reason for teams to compete every year! Better teams get a better share of the local eyeballs. Just sayin’.
A lot of what I wrote last week holds true, including my guess that you might see MLB, the NBA, and the NHL try to go together on a single product. It’s the “bundle” in a cable-free world – some fans would LOVE it, while others would be “paying” for a sport they don’t want (so it’s basically the same as the cable bundle where you’re “paying” for channels you never watch – just at a smaller, more specific scale).
There aren’t a lot of specifics just yet on how this would work, though the speculated launch would be for 2023 (that’s really fast), and the monthly price tag would be between $10 and $20 per month (is that just for MLB, or for all three sports?).
My best guess is that MLB (and/or the other sports) would simply cut deals with RSNs to allow the MLB service to include the games on their new product, and they would pay the RSN a portion for the privilege. So, if you were in the Chicago sports region, it’d be like getting the games on Marquee and NBC Sports Chicago instead in your MLBNBANHL SPORTS app. Or whatever. Those would be the only games you get, because the whole point is to fill in the regional blackout gap.
Putting that another way: if you are out of the region, you would still be able to do MLB dot TV like always. That’s how you’d get your games. But if you were local – like the folks in Iowa who are blacked out from six+ MLB teams – you would be able to get this new streaming service, and boom, you have all the games that you were otherwise blacked out from. (Of course, if you wanted true nationwide coverage of every single game without any blackouts whatsoever, I presume you would have to have both this new service (in-market) and MLB.tv (out-of-market). You might want to consider somehow just making that one thing, MLB, if you’re really looking for ease and seamless.)
Longer term, this starts to become really, really good news for fans, because as MLB centralizes more of its ability to show whatever games to whatever fans by whatever method in whatever region, it becomes easier to get back to a world where you have true “national” games from time to time. And then all the local games are super easy for anyone to watch any time. That’s how you create and sustain the next generation of fans (in addition to getting more kids to play baseball and making game attendance waaaay more accessible).
For too long, MLB focused on wringing out every last dollar from the fans it had available, instead of focusing on generating as many fans as possible. Even if you’re just cynical about this stuff, it’s a lot easier to make a hundred bucks from a hundred fans than from ten. Growing and sustaining the fan base over the next 30 years should be MLB’s priority number one, not obsessively focusing on franchise valuations, and nickel-and-diming players, and protecting antiquated methods of broadcast delivery.