Letters to Rob Manfred, Part 5: Blackouts Aren’t Fun for Anyone
Finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for. You thought I forgot about it or had other priorities. Nope, I’m with every fan across the country in solidarity. Blackouts need to go bye-bye. If MLB wants people to see the games, it has to allow them to, you guessed it…see the games.
Fans don’t become fans because they get blacked out and decide on a whim to drive to the ballpark. Fans who pay money for a package to watch games don’t stay fans if you tell them they can’t watch the games they just paid for.
So, after four installments over which I’ve implored Commissioner Manfred to make some worthwhile changes, it’s time for my final chapter. We covered hyping the game in Part 1, to hyping the players in Part 2, making the game more accessible to kids in Part 3, and making the game cheaper for families in Part 4. Last but not least, here’s the terminal portion:
Dear Mr. Manfred,
MLB.tv and MLB At Bat have been a huge boon to your fans and baseball in general. The ability to watch your favorite team from anywhere in the country without a specific cable package or channel is phenomenal. Some fans of the Braves or Cubs may be annoyed because they used to get these games for free, but times change and they didn’t really expect dinosaurs superstations like TBS and WGN to avoid extinction, did they? In other words, you’ve done us a solid those programs.
However, you haven’t capitalized to the fullest extent and are leaving a lot on the table. The best way to make sure the game picks up and keeps as many fans as possible is to set up easy access and provide maximum exposure to games. Unfortunately, it seems you’d rather maintain draconian restrictions based on arcane regional maps that dictate cockamamie home territories. Did you know fans in Iowa are blacked out of 1/3 of all MLB games. Again, maybe these aren’t your deal and you’ve only inherited this issue. If this is the case, then resolve it posthaste.
Why not drop the regional territories and let people be fans of any team by working with your broadcast partners to iron this out? If you think that by blacking people out, you’re forcing more people to the stadiums themselves, you’re sorely mistaken. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. By taking away the ability for fans to watch their games because of silly regional overlaps, you’re actually facilitating the departure of would-be amaranthine fans. Period.
People have a million other ways of entertaining themselves in 2019, and they’ll choose the path of least resistance if you make things difficult for them. Can’t watch the Cubs game? Welp, guess I’ll go watch Netflix. Seriously, it’s that simple.
By limiting fan exposure, the only thing MLB is doing is alienating fans. Hopefully, your bid to acquire these Regional Sports Networks is successful and this will help you make the necessary changes to get your product to everyone more readily. While you’re at it, work out a deal with ESPN so that all the cord-cutters can still watch their teams play even if they don’t have cable any longer. Nothing’s worse than getting rid of cable, buying MLB.tv so you can watch your team, and then not being able to watch your team because you still need said cable service to access the games.
Dropping the blackout restrictions would be a giant step forward for the league in promoting itself. And if you are serious about shilling your product to millennials and youngsters, it would certainly behoove you to figure out a way to raze restrictions altogether.
This great game that we love doesn’t need a lot of outlandish changes. It needs a few tweaks, some love, and for you to abandon the crusade for shorter games and just realize it’s baseball. Idiosyncrasies are what make the game fun and exciting, and taking them away only dulls the romance.
In his famous Field of Dreams speech, James Earl Jones declared, “The one constant through all the years has been baseball…it reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” He wasn’t wrong.
People will come, Rob. They’ll fork over their money for games, merchandise, and MLB.tv without thinking. They’ll want to be reminded of what was so idyllic in their childhood and dip themselves in magic waters. People will most definitely keep coming, Rob. They’ll also turn on their TV and open their wallets if given a legitimate chance.
Just take a look at my letters and forget the expression “pace of play” ever existed.