I’m a big baseball fan, and I love the St. Louis Cardinals. Since I live in Austin, about 900 miles away from St. Louis, I only get to Busch Stadium about once a year while I’m visiting family in Illinois. Whenever the Cardinals play the Astros (which was twice last year, and twice again this year), I make the trip to Houston to see them there. But that’s about the extent to which I can see them in person. Since their games aren’t televised around here as much as they should be, and since I’m often at work during most of the games, I don’t get to see them on TV much more than I do in person.
For the last two years, I’ve also subscribed to MLB.TV, which provides live video of the games while they’re in progress, and there’s an archive that gives you access to any all games played so far in the season (although it’s definitely not as fun watching a game that’s already been played because it’s impossible to keep from finding out who won). They also have a deal with Roku, so I can use it to watch the games on my TV, either live or already completed. At $120 per year, it’s expensive, but most of the time I think that it’s worth it. This week isn’t one of those times.
In my opinion, the only real down side to MLB.TV is the blackout restrictions that they impose. In theory, the blackouts are supposed to encourage people to go to the games, but in reality they’re just plain stupid. I can’t think of a single good reason for them to exist at all, and especially not when I’m already paying so much for the streaming service. However, it seems like their restrictions go far beyond what is reasonable. The restrictions include:
- All games on Saturday afternoon are blacked out, no matter what.
- All games on Sunday evening are blacked out, no matter what.
- Some additional games are blacked out based on your location.
The first two of these are pretty frustrating, and I’ve been bitten by both of them already this week because the Cardinals played on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, and I couldn’t see either one. However, the location-based restrictions seem to be even more frustrating. For me, because I’m in Texas, they basically prevent me from seeing any game in which a Texas team is playing. This week, the Cardinals are playing the Houston Astros, so I can’t see them. This is despite the fact that the game isn’t taking place nearly a thousand miles away, so there is no reasonable opportunity for me to see it in person (and even if they were in Houston, that’s still over three hours away from where I am).
I guess I’m one of the “lucky” ones, since I don’t live anywhere near my favorite team. If I did, then I might not ever be able to see them live, and I can’t see how anyone would justify the cost of MLB.TV if they couldn’t ever see their favorite team play live. And apparently these restrictions are even worse for people who don’t have any reasonable access to see any games at all. For example, people living in Des Moines, Iowa can’t see any games in which any of six teams is playing (Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Royals, Twins, or White Sox), despite the fact that Iowa doesn’t have any professional teams and Des Moines is over three hours away from the nearest of those cities and nearly seven hours away from the farthest.
Major League Baseball: I beg of you, please get rid of these restrictions. I promise you that you’ll make more money, and you’ll have happier customers. There are definitely people who won’t subscribe at all because of these restrictions, and others who opt for a much cheaper audio-only subscription since they aren’t subject to blackouts. It’s also a lot easier for people to support their teams (and spend money doing so) if they can actually watch them play. There are a lot of really good reasons to get rid of the blackouts and no good reason to keep them.