Baseball is coming back. While the road ahead is still bumpy, and many aren’t confident the season will finish (or even start), MLB is pushing towards a season in 2020. However, it’s going to be a season unlike most. Attending a game will not be possible, as most (if not all) teams will be playing in stadiums without crowds. The only way to watch most games will be on TV. With technology as advanced as it is, that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, for a league that has been resistant to implementing technology, watching games could be expensive, and some may not even have a legal way to watch.
Let’s look at the issue of cost first. Rising TV costs have been prevalent for years, and it hasn’t gone away. With many companies essentially establishing monopolies in areas, there’s no incentive for them to reduce costs. As a result, having a cable/satellite TV package now is expensive. Depending on what you have in your area, you’re looking at a minimum of $50/month, and that’s before all of the fees that get tacked on top of it. Realistically, you’re looking at $60/month to start, and most of these packages just have that as an introductory price. They will increase 12 months down the line. Plus, you have to commit to a 2-year contract to get that price, and escaping from one of these contracts can be very difficult, even after it has expired.
The alternative to traditional cable or satellite TV has been to go online for an internet TV package. These had been cheaper and didn’t have the same commitment, so they were much more convenient. However, most of these options have also been taken away. The recent purchase of the Fox Sports networks by Sinclair resulted in increased broadcast fees, so many providers either raised costs or dropped the networks altogether. Right now, you can only get internet TV with these channels through three providers: Hulu ($55/month), YouTube TV ($65/month), and AT&T ($80/month). Before the rate hike, there had been more reasonable options (YouTube TV was only $40/month last season). However, now these packages, which had been seen as better than traditional options, are basically the same as them. They are easier to leave (no contract) and don’t have introductory prices, but are still subject to rising fees.
Of course, MLB has a great way to watch games, with their MLB.TV package. It’s reasonably priced ($119/year, though that rate tends to go down as the season progresses) and you get access to every regular season game. That’s a very good deal, right? Well, yes and no. You get access to every game EXCEPT for the teams that have designated your area as their market. If you want to watch them, you have to subscribe to a TV provider. There’s no way around it. In Wisconsin, that means you can’t watch the Brewers through MLB.TV. Depending on the area you live in, you also can’t watch the Twins, Cubs, or White Sox. If you live outside of Wisconsin, you might be able to watch the Brewers, but the number of local teams you can’t watch may be higher. Iowa is infamous for this, as six teams have blacked out games there (Brewers, Cardinals, Royals, Twins, Cubs, White Sox). As a result, if you live in an area the Brewers have claimed, MLB.TV isn’t an option either.
Because of all of this, if you want to watch the Brewers, you have to subscribe to an expensive TV package, and that’s assuming your area carries Fox Sports Wisconsin. There’s no way around it. You can’t plan an outing for a day at Miller Park. You might be able to go to a bar and watch, but that’s very risky during the current pandemic. Even going to a friend’s house isn’t advised. Getting an antenna won’t help either, as Fox doesn’t broadcast many games outside of the World Series on regular TV anymore. To watch the Brewers this season, you could easily be stuck paying over $50/month, and with many people dealing with money problems right now, that’s not an expense they can justify.
As technology continues to advance, and people look to save money, the prospect of paying a significant amount to watch baseball isn’t appealing anymore. During a time when MLB has an audience that they could bring in and make new fans from, their current setup is further driving their potential fan base away. Rising prices are making TV packages unaffordable for many, and blackout rules remove the affordable options they do have. When NFL games are essentially free to watch and other sports are more accessible, MLB needs to be more proactive if they don’t want to lose fans in the current world of sports.