If this offseason has told us anything regarding the state of the game, it’s that Major League Baseball is not struggling financially. Now that concerns about COVID-19 and a lack of labor peace are seemingly in the rear-view mirror, we’ve seen numerous teams get back to spending aggressively in free agency. In addition, MLB sold its share of BAMTech, a video streaming tech company, for a reported $900 million dollars. In short, when it comes to the almighty dollar, business is booming in baseball.
However, just because revenues are at all-time highs for MLB doesn’t mean there aren’t major issues that need to be addressed for the long-term health of the game. One of those issues is baseball’s popularity and appeal to the younger generation of sports fans. According to Global Data, the average age of a baseball fan in North America is 57, a figure that should concern Rob Manfred in the commissioner’s office in New York.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen MLB take certain measures like adding the 3-batter minimum rule and a pitch clock to speed up the pace of games. In addition, in hopes to spark a little more action and excitement, the league has increased the size of the bases to encourage more base stealing and has also banned the shift.
However, perhaps the most important factor in MLB’s quest to make the game more appealing is to simply make the game more accessible to consume. This may seem obvious, but if you have any experience with MLB’s dreaded “blackouts,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The current problem for many MLB.TV and Extra Innings subscribers are that local games are blacked out. The blackout restrictions are meant to protect local TV partners and force fans to watch the local broadcast of the game rather than using their MLB.TV or Extra Innings subscription. With many fans cutting the cord, the digital landscape is shifting more toward streaming each day. Inevitably, blackouts have been a huge source of frustration for fans.
As an example, imagine you are a New York Yankees fan living in North Carolina. You pay well over $100 for an Extra Innings or MLB.TV subscription, which allows you to watch the Yankees. However, under the current arrangement, any games that the Yankees play against the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and Atlanta Braves would be blacked out on subscription packages in an attempt to force fans to tune into the local broadcast. In cases where fans are streaming or don’t have access to the local broadcast, they are unable to watch the game. For a sport that is somewhat declining in popularity and failing to appeal to the younger generation, restrictions such as these do nothing but hurt the long-term health of the game.
However, it looks like MLB has taken a strong step to address this issue. Last week, the league announced that it has hired longtime regional sports network executive Billy Chambers for the newly created position of EVP/Local Media. According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, the main issue Chambers will tackle is helping MLB take better control of their local media rights.
Reportedly, one of MLB’s goals is to create a national product that would combine local rights with its Extra Innings and MLB.TV packages.
According to MLB’s press release, Chambers will work closely with the 30 Clubs on the most effective means to distribute games to fans in local markets throughout the country. Additionally, he will work with Kenny Gersh, whose role at MLB centers around driving new revenue streams and business initiatives for the league, including all business aspects of the league’s sports betting strategy, fantasy baseball, the league’s direct-to-consumer media businesses, and Web 3 opportunities such as NFTs.
From this, it’s apparent that MLB understands the current predicament and is working diligently to address it in the best way possible. Untangling television and media rights contracts is no small task, so it’s unreasonable to expect overnight changes. But if you’re an MLB fan, you can’t help but be somewhat encouraged by the steps the league is taking by adding Chambers to their staff.
Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5