Apple's MLB deal is good for Apple TV+, but making a bad situation worse for baseball fans...

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited March 2022
At Tuesday's Apple Event, Apple rolled out the long-rumored deal it signed with Major League Baseball. But, in a time where it is getting harder for local fans to watch their team play, this is making that situation worse, and not better.




As I write this, MLB is still shut down after its COVID-impacted 2021 run, and a shortened 2020 campaign. Making a long story short, the owners decided that they wanted to negotiate with the players' union with training shut down, and this will in all likelihood take out a big chunk of the start of the season, as spring training has not even started yet.

And yet, on Tuesday, Apple announced that every Friday night, it will stream two games starting on April 8. I am telling you now, in all likelihood, the season will not have started then.

This is a nice perk for Apple TV+ subscribers. It will make the overall experience for baseball fans worse.

Baseball watching and streaming is complex

I don't know what year it all started, but MLB viewing is fragmented pretty badly. Mostly gone are the days of baseball being broadcast on your local channel.

In most markets, a regional sports network (RSN) carries the games for any given market. In New England, for example, it's NESN. In New York and into the Red Sox/Yankees neutral zone that is southern Connecticut, it's YES. Most others have a Fox-owned channel.

These channels are on cable, or on a streaming package like fuboTV. So, they are not free already, and you're still going to get ads on top of what you pay.

But, these channels don't air all the games. Crucial match-ups and a random game now and again are often aired on ESPN or other national broadcasters like Fox local channels, TBS, or the MLB network itself.

So, add another service or venue you've got to pay attention to, or pay for.

National providers like Verizon, Cox, and DirecTV have national versions of RSNs. But again, the networks don't have the rights to air games on those channels. So, a package like MLB.TV is required to watch games for out-of-area fans.

Here's where it starts to get complicated. The MLB.TV streaming package blacks out games that are in the local area. So, if the Yankees are playing the Orioles, and you're a Yankee fan in Maryland, you won't be able to watch it on MLB.TV, because it's on the Baltimore RSN.

Because of all this, if you're a Red Sox fan in Boston, or a Yankees fan in New York, you won't get to watch any of the games on MLB.TV when you're at home.

Amazon has some carve-outs for exclusive games, which are then blacked out on local programming and on other streaming venues.

And now, Apple does too.

Apple TV+ and Amazon is a solution for some, but not for the motor that drives the game

This is just the latest chapter of "more fans and less money per fan" versus "fewer fans that pay more for the privilege." Fans are increasingly being priced out of watching the games in the stadiums. At the same time, MLB has complained that viewership and revenue is dropping, especially in less major markets.

So, to fix this problem, the league is making changes to the game itself and financial arrangements. While the scope of the lockout and negotiation points are beyond the scope of this article, the league keeps saying that they're trying to spruce things up and attract new fans, which is part of the point of the ongoing lockout and negotiations.




The Amazon and Apple TV+ deals aren't going to attract new fans. Instead, it just makes it harder for most of the existing fans with what is essentially a genetic and regional imperative to follow their childhood team to follow along.

Apple is probably paying them a pretty penny, but the sport relies on viewers and fans who have already started complaining about more blackouts of games.

The games and the daily coverage of the goings-on will add viewing time to Apple TV+ from existing subscribers. I'm not certain if it will add many new users to the service, given how many streaming paths a viewer needs to subscribe to to catch all the games.

This is good for Apple, of course. Otherwise, they wouldn't have signed the deal. It's good for MLB ownership, because of Apple's and Amazon's money.

But that's cold comfort to that lifelong fan of any given team. Tell that devout Yankees or Red Sox fan that they will miss a crucial match-up mid-season because it won't be on MLB.TV or their regional sports network.

Instead, tell them that they have to pony up again to a big-tech corporate behemoth to watch it, above and beyond paying monthly for their RSN or at least $109 per year for a single-team MLB.tv subscription.

Just don't expect a positive response.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,571member
    Yes I honestly don't know why anyone follows Baseball any more. My partner is a huge fan of the Minnesota Twins. They have MLB.com so can catch most of the games. That is except when they are on one of these other services and the game is available to XYZ subscribers only. And of course there's the blackout rules. Fun fact the "local area" for the Toronto Blue Jays is ALL OF F-ING CANADA. That's right if the Twins are playing the Jays in Toronto, we on Vancouver Island 4500km away can't see it. Then with this lockout, my partner is just disgusted about, "billionaires arguing with millionaires". I think they are getting close to telling the whole league to go to hell.
    TomPMRIflyingdp
  • Reply 2 of 13
    payecopayeco Posts: 544member
    The only real option here to fix this requires Congressional action IMO. Congress needs to carve an an exception to MLB’s antitrust exemption so they are not allowed to have local blackouts. All games are carried by both a teams local RSN and on MLB.tv with no local restrictions. It’s going to cost the MLB money because they won’t be able to makes exclusive arrangements like this one with Apple, but I just can’t see any other way to fix this issue. 
    edited March 2022 flyingdp
  • Reply 3 of 13
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,460member
    The game of baseball doesn’t need to change in order to attract new fans. Baseball is perfect the way it is. The business of baseball is what needs to change. Erecting barriers to access your product is not the way to drive demand. Pricing the customer out at the gate, and by making it confusing and more expensive to watch the games at home, is not just eroding the interest of new and casual fans, but it’s starting to affect the passionate fans as well. Now with Apple and Amazon in the mix, it’s just going to be an even bigger pain in the ass to keep track of where to watch my teams. This announcement met me with a great  big yawn yesterday. While it might be a value-add for current subscribers, I really don’t see it driving a meaningful number of new ones to TV+. Look for this to be a onetime deal. 
    flyingdpbyronl
  • Reply 4 of 13
    diz_geekdiz_geek Posts: 46member
    Definitely gotten worse the past couple of years, especially with the blackouts of your local market team on MLB.tv. With more and more of the regional RSNs getting chopped out of many cutter options (except fuboTV), unless a game is nationally broadcast I can’t watch it. At the very least it would be nice if I could purchase directly from my local RSN, but nope - they don’t allow that. I know they’ve got the tech - if I had Comcast cable, I could log into my RSN’s app and watch on the road, but heaven forbid we cut Comcast out of the equation and buy access direct from the RSN.

    My household has gone from watching around 140+ games a season to about…. 10. Maybe. All because these insane licensing agreements make the games unavailable through how I purchase TV viewing. 
    byronl
  • Reply 5 of 13
    I am a rabid Red Sox fan living in the Boston area. When I cut the cord about eight years ago, at first I went with Sling, which didn't carry the Red Sox. I thought maybe I could just use MLB.tv, but I found that terribly disappointing with all the blackouts. Then YouTube TV started carrying the Red Sox and for a few years, it was great. I was able to watch a lot of Red Sox games, and I was happy enough with YouTube TV. Then YouTube dropped the Red Sox and jacked up the price. I moved to FuboTV, even tho I only watched four of their 100 channels. I don't follow any sports except the Red Sox and I was paying $70/month just for one channel, essentially. A few days ago, I dropped FuboTV because I believe the baseball season will be canceled. I expect to watch zero baseball games this year, even if the season does get going. This is a terrible situation.
    byronl
  • Reply 6 of 13
    I absolutely agree with everything Mike said in his piece — this is probably a good business proposition for Apple (in particular, to gain some experience with delivering live programming) and a revenue generator for the league.

    I'm not a baseball fan; there's no major league team near where I live. I tend to watch only two or three games per year, and that's only when the World Series has a game 5 & beyond. As an Apple TV+ subscriber, I might actually be in Apple's target audience here. If one of the Friday night games has a close score in the late innings, I might actually tune in for a while.
    randominternetpersonbyronl
  • Reply 7 of 13
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    Luckily Apple isn’t expensive. $4.99/month. 
    randominternetpersonbyronl
  • Reply 8 of 13
    I don't pay for sports unless I'm in a stadium or arena. I watch what is available for free. And listen to the radio broadcasts. Try it... problem free.
    flyingdp
  • Reply 9 of 13
    This article makes a number of interesting points, but this blanket assertion is silly: "The Amazon and Apple TV+ deals aren't going to attract new fans."

    There are millions of people who don't subscribe to a baseball-specific premium service (like MLB.com or whatever it's called) but do have Apple TV+ or Amazon Prime. Some of these people will watch games on TV now that they wouldn't have otherwise. Some of these viewings will introduce friends or family members to professional baseball. I hazard a guess that, perhaps more than other sports, baseball fandom is generally "inherited" from family members of prior generations. MLB making it easier for more fans to watch games helps attracts new fans.

    Apple TV+ will promote this throughout the baseball season; plenty of people will tune in to see what's what. Especially if Apple does a great job presenting the game, this will attract (some number of) new fans. It won't be millions of fans, probably, but it won't be zero.
    byronl
  • Reply 10 of 13
    I love Mike tons, but I don’t get the hand-wringing specifically over this deal. 

    Previously, I lived out of my team’s market and had MLB.tv subscription. AppleTV would alert me to a game, and either start up MLB.tv app, or go to ESPN/TBS/Fox if the game was a National one. Games on AppleTV+ just adds another handoff, but the AppleTV makes this seamless. 

    Now I live in my team’s home market and things are different. I spent last year watching my team’s games on MLB.tv, bypassing the blackout through use of VPN, but on my iPad, because YouTubeTV dropped the RSN. 

    This season I have dropped MLB.tv because I didn’t want to feed MLB during this lockout. But if the RSN remains unavailable to me on YTTV, and if Sinclair doesn’t bring an OTT app for viewing, then AppleTV+ may be one of the few opportunities I have to see my team on TV. 

    But there is a solid positive for the game in that AppleTV+ will be showing these games in Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and the UK. This is an opportunity to help grow the game globally, instead of siloing American baseball in North America alone. 
  • Reply 11 of 13
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,567administrator
    I love Mike tons, but I don’t get the hand-wringing specifically over this deal. 

    Previously, I lived out of my team’s market and had MLB.tv subscription. AppleTV would alert me to a game, and either start up MLB.tv app, or go to ESPN/TBS/Fox if the game was a National one. Games on AppleTV+ just adds another handoff, but the AppleTV makes this seamless. 

    Now I live in my team’s home market and things are different. I spent last year watching my team’s games on MLB.tv, bypassing the blackout through use of VPN, but on my iPad, because YouTubeTV dropped the RSN. 

    This season I have dropped MLB.tv because I didn’t want to feed MLB during this lockout. But if the RSN remains unavailable to me on YTTV, and if Sinclair doesn’t bring an OTT app for viewing, then AppleTV+ may be one of the few opportunities I have to see my team on TV. 

    But there is a solid positive for the game in that AppleTV+ will be showing these games in Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and the UK. This is an opportunity to help grow the game globally, instead of siloing American baseball in North America alone. 
    What I bolded is the fix for folks like us, but isn't an option for most of the fanbase. You and I can handle that. 99% of MLB.tv subs can't or won't.

    And, some of the RSNs have territorial blocks on some of those regions based on fanbase, as part of the antitrust carveouts that caused all this in the first place.
  • Reply 12 of 13
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,714member
    MLB’s real problem is the steady loss of viewership over the last 10 years. Personally I’d rather watch golf - just as interesting and prettier scenery. 
  • Reply 13 of 13
    I love Mike tons, but I don’t get the hand-wringing specifically over this deal. 

    Previously, I lived out of my team’s market and had MLB.tv subscription. AppleTV would alert me to a game, and either start up MLB.tv app, or go to ESPN/TBS/Fox if the game was a National one. Games on AppleTV+ just adds another handoff, but the AppleTV makes this seamless. 

    Now I live in my team’s home market and things are different. I spent last year watching my team’s games on MLB.tv, bypassing the blackout through use of VPN, but on my iPad, because YouTubeTV dropped the RSN. 

    This season I have dropped MLB.tv because I didn’t want to feed MLB during this lockout. But if the RSN remains unavailable to me on YTTV, and if Sinclair doesn’t bring an OTT app for viewing, then AppleTV+ may be one of the few opportunities I have to see my team on TV. 

    But there is a solid positive for the game in that AppleTV+ will be showing these games in Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and the UK. This is an opportunity to help grow the game globally, instead of siloing American baseball in North America alone. 
    What I bolded is the fix for folks like us, but isn't an option for most of the fanbase. You and I can handle that. 99% of MLB.tv subs can't or won't.

    And, some of the RSNs have territorial blocks on some of those regions based on fanbase, as part of the antitrust carveouts that caused all this in the first place.
    Understood—but my understanding is the games on ATV+ will not be affected by blackout restrictions. No VPN remedy needed. That would be a net positive for those who *don’t* have the VPN option in local team territory, right?

    Maybe I misunderstood your original point, but I see more upside for MLB with this game package sold to Apple than downside. Global growth is essential if the game is to keep pace with NFL and NBA in exporting American sports to the world. Otherwise, it will be like cricket in India—Huge within the nation, but unknown outside it. 
Sign In or Register to comment.