March 14, 2007

After months of speculation, Major League Baseball (MLB) this past Friday finally announced its intention to enter into an exclusive agreement with DirecTV to carry it’s “MLB Extra Innings” baseball package. Basically, the agreement means that MLBEI, which customers pay somewhere around $200 for to be given a selection of available games being played on any given night (enabling, say, a Milwaukee Brewers fan to see somewhere around 70% of their games even if he lives in, say, South Carolina), previously offered to DirecTV and Dish Network customers as well as various cable providers, will only be available on DirecTV unless the others are willing to both pay up and clear space on their networks for MLB’s Baseball Channel, scheduled to debut in 2009.

Several months ago, when word leaked out that MLB was considering offering its MLBEI package exclusively on DirecTV, with no consideration at all to Dish Network and cable customers, fans and observers alike (who suddenly realized that their past support for MLBEI meant absolutely bupkis to MLB) began to express their concern and outrage over the proposed arrangement. Silly them.

MLB Commissioner Bud “Clueless” Selig must have been taken aback by the negative press and concerns of the fans, because he then sent his toady, MLB President Bob DuPuy, off on an ill-advised public relations campaign that served only to show everyone just how out of touch MLB’s braintrust (and I use that term loosely) was, for they went scurrying back to the cable providers and Dish Network to try and make amends by offering them what, on the surface, appears to be a very poor deal, indeed. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“I hope that those fans who have been directing their concerns to us over the last several weeks will now encourage their cable carriers to in fact enlist for this package,” DuPuy told the Associated Press.

Actually, DuPuy is just trying a weak public relations campaign. He must consider his customers morons if he thinks they are falling for his attempt to shift the blame for this debacle off MLB and onto cable providers who almost certainly will fail to make a deal that was designed to fail in the first place.

The nearly completed exclusivity would cut the availability of Extra Innings from 82 percent of U.S. households to 16 percent. The reason why MLB would do this is far more confusing than the regular baseball fan should have to try to figure out.

That person is someone from, let’s say, Cleveland, who now lives in Atlanta but still wants to watch his Indians so he can enjoy an emotional attachment to his father, his sister and his boys back home. He is gladly willing to shell out $179.95 to do so.

Only now, he won’t be able to, unless he switches to DirecTV.

I’m actually two-minded about MLB’s decision. On one hand, as a private entity, MLB should have the right to do what it damned well pleases, even if it means, out of its own greed and stupidity, alienating a significant core of its fan base. On the other hand, MLB has never felt it necessary to operate solely within the private sector, for it often bases its decisions on where teams play and can play based on its ability to build new stadiums funded, in part, on taxes that are raised (and paid) by non-baseball fans.

So even though a couple of U.S. senators want to review MLB’s decision – supposedly to make sure the impact on fans passes the “fairness” test – the deal is gonna happen, and it will be the fans, as usual, who will get screwed in the end. But, as the Boston Globe’s Eric Willbur writes, one shouldn’t be surprised at Selig’s and MLB’s thinking:

This nonexclusivity is just a loophole created to give you some sense of false hope — like the fact that the Devil Rays are suiting up for another season. Nothing has changed, and nobody wins except Major League Baseball, a league that can continue to do whatever it wants, however it wants, and gets away with it in record attendance year after year. Prices go up and so do the complaints. But so do the fannies in the seats. Why should MLB change its business practices?


Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 01:18 | Comment (1)
1 Comment
  1. They’re one step away from Pay-Per-View. On the bright side for DirecTV subscribers, baseball is a bargain at $179. The NFL charges $249 for their package. I wish MLB would come up with a team-by-team package in addition to their Extra Innings package. I wouldn’t mind paying $25/ea or so for the Cardinals, Red Sox, and Twins. Not that I ever have time to watch more than a couple of innings at a time.

    Comment by Rob — March 14, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

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