I made fairly sizable purchase last Friday. I called up Comcast, my cable operator and said, "Yes, I'd like to sign up for the MLB Extra Innings package." My wife and I will pay $160 to watch the next six month of our favorite team, the Boston Red Sox from our San Francisco area home. It hurts me to spend money like this. It seems like living in a different location shouldn't prevent you from seeing your favorite team. Alas, that's the way things work today and I have to live with it. I imagine that in 5 or 10 years this business model will go the way of music stores like Tower Records.
There are a few options for Major League Baseball fans living away from their favorite teams:
- Slingbox - We have a Slingbox back home, but there have been lots of technical problems getting it work with Verizon's FIOS service. It's partially Verizon having a complicated procedure for adding new televisions and partially the wiring of my friend's house. It's at the point where I've become too much of a burden to him and have dropped the subject.
- MLB Extra Innings - This is the way we went. You give the cable operator or DirecTV $160 (or $200 if you don't get their early bird special) and you get a set of channels with a bunch of baseball games. If you have the Dish Network, you don't have this option, they weren't able to reach a deal with Major League Baseball this year.
- MLB.TV - This is an option for those who want to stream the games over the Internet. One of the pluses is that you can get a monthly subscription rather than buying a whole season. The price is a more reasonable $120 a year. You are reduced to watching it on a computer or hooking up your computer to your TV. However, the biggest negative is that MLB likes to steal your money or at least they liked to steal mine.
- Streaming P2P services - I'm not sure these are legal and I bet the quality isn't the best. Still I've heard of people using Sopcast and/or TVAnts to watch games. I don't really consider this an option, but I'm adding it here for completeness.
On Saturday morning my wife and I woke up excited to watch the game while we do a little Spring cleaning (because of the time zone difference, it's only 10 o'clock). We turn on the TV and go to our new channels and see that they are showing only four of the days 12 games - all starting at 7PM. I think that's very odd since there were currently 6 or 7 games in progress.
I called up Comcast. It takes me about 20 minutes to explain to two people that I have no service problems, but an issue with the programming (or lack thereof) being offered. I get put on hold for a quite awhile and as the call approaches it's one-hour mark, they direct me to InDemand's MLB Extra Innings website. It seems that the program is their issue and not Comcast's. I buy that, and the Comcast person is nice enough to give me a phone number for their offices. Of course InDemand's offices aren't open on the weekend.
I eventually got routed back to Comcast where I found someone who actually watches baseball. This is helpful because I'm fairly sure the other Comcast reps believed no baseball was being played at the time. He found some fine print about the MLB Extra Innings not being able to carry games during Fox's or ESPN's Game of the Week. Well, Fox didn't have game on, so that couldn't be it. Wait, looking through my TV guide, they are showing a game at 12:30. So that explains it...
Major League Baseball is paid a lot of money by Fox and ESPN to not show the other games at the same time on that service. It's a fairly stupid thing, but I've never once thought, "The Red Sox game isn't on, I'll watch the Dodgers/Padres." I'd guess that few people don't have that thought either. If people are willing to pay $160-$200 to "follow your favorite teams" and "get access to ALL the hard-hitting, base-stealing action.", they don't care about the game of the week.
It's at this point where I decided to look at the MLB.TV service again. They claim "April - September: WATCH and LISTEN to every regular season out-of-market game" as well as "WATCH every 2008 regular season out-of-market game LIVE or on-demand." Eureka! So this how I can watch the Red Sox on Saturday and Sunday when they are not the Game of The Week - "every game" means every game right? There are no asterisks or footnote markets next to those claims. Scroll down the screen and in the smallest, lightest gray text they can manage, they mention that the service is subject to the same Fox/ESPN blackout.
At this point, the Red Sox game was nearly over. They were losing 10-2 and my frustration came to a head. I explained the situation to my wife, who can't get over the fact that we paid $160 for most, but not all of the games that we got for free in Boston. The best I could do is say that Major League Baseball is an onion of bovine excrement - you pull off one layer and there's another layer beneath it.
Of course as long as they draw such strong feelings from me (and fans like me), they will be able to continue these practices.
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