The baseball season is nearly underway, and fans are ready to tune in. But what they’ll find on their TV screens and streaming services may be more jarring than ever.
For decades, the local rights to MLB games provided a significant portion of team revenues and gave broadcasters an important tool for marketing their local coverage. The league’s 162-game regular season and high ratings make it a cornerstone for sports channels that pay handsome sums to broadcast games.
But now, with the rise of direct-to-consumer subscription streaming, local rights are disappearing. And for a league that depends on those rights for about 15% of its revenue, the impact could be huge.
The shift has been gradual but noticeable. In the 1990s, local television deals helped entice players such as Alex Rodriguez to Texas, where the Rangers’ TV pact gave them the leverage needed to offer him a record contract. More recently, the Yankees and Red Sox introduced their own direct-to-consumer subscription streaming services (priced at around $20-30 a month) and have urged fans to sign up in the hope that their teams’ on-field success will translate into paying subscribers.
But the future of local broadcasting for the rest of the league is less clear, as a number of local TV stations have gone up for sale or are looking at a possible buyout from a larger company. The specter of fewer RSNs is raising concerns that the quality of baseball broadcasting will suffer, and that it will no longer be available to viewers who do not subscribe to cable or satellite services.
That could be bad for fans and the league itself. A recent study found that a significant percentage of viewers who watched games on the free-to-air streaming service Fox Sports Go saw ads for other products or websites that were distracting or inappropriate. And if the number of viewers who watch MLB games on streaming platforms increases, the cost of local rights to those networks will also increase.
One potential solution is for the MLB to take over the production and distribution of its own network of RSNs, with the intention that it be more widely available to cord-cutters. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said he would take such steps if necessary, although he hasn’t specified how.
But even if that happens, it is unlikely to be a full-scale takeover. Diamond Sports Group has missed payments on contracts with four other clubs besides the Padres and has asked a bankruptcy judge to reduce what it owes teams. The company has argued that it needs to restructure to stay afloat and keep its local rights agreements in place. And that is a point that many in the industry agree with. Whether a court will agree with the plan remains to be seen. 메이저리그중계