Nothing ever improves when MLB takes control

Nothing ever improves when MLB takes control

Los Angeles Angels P/DH Shohei Ohtani shakes hands with Bally Sports West analyst Jose Mota after a post-game interview.
Image: Getty Images

We stand here today on the precipice of one of the largest downfalls in broadcasting. Diamond Sports Group, the company that owns all of Bally’s regional sports networks, announced Wednesday that it would be skipping its $140 million payment for February.

“The company intends to use the 30-day grace period to continue progressing its ongoing discussions with creditors and other key stakeholders regarding potential strategic alternatives and deleveraging transactions to best position Diamond Sports Group for the future,” Diamond said in a statement.

While bankruptcy is not guaranteed to be the next step, it seems incredibly likely that is where DSG is headed. Without Bally Sports though, who will stream all of our favorite MLB teams’ games? Well have no fear, if worst comes to worst, Rob Manfred and company will have our backs.

Well, that doesn’t sound good at all

When answering questions about the future of MLB streaming, Manfred expressed interest in keeping DSG afloat.

“We don’t want them to have financial difficulties, and we have been spending a lot of time and effort trying to work with them, figure out where they are,” the commissioner said. “Obviously, our first choice would be that Diamond pay the clubs what they’re contractually obligated to pay them, but because I guess I’m a contingency planner by nature, we are prepared no matter what happens with respect to Diamond to make sure that games are available to fans in their local markets.”

That all seems great on the surface. There’s nothing wrong in preparing for the worst. Fans want to watch their favorite teams and players, and that’s what they’ll get by any means necessary. However, the fact that the league itself would take over isn’t good news for fans.

When was the last time MLB had control over anything their league had to offer and it worked out for the best? The answer? Never, and their history with streaming services is even worse. Remember years ago when MLB Audio was $15 for the entire year and you could get every MLB game with no ads? Those were the days. However, as the service has gotten older, the price has doubled, the quality of the broadcast has decreased, and even though the service once swore up and down that it would never have ads, pre-roll ads have made their way into the audio streams, which is absolutely insane considering the audio streams already have built-in ads in between each half inning and whenever there’s a stoppage in play.

The service itself has also suffered numerous technical problems that irritated several users, which came to a head in 2022. Oftentimes last season, audio on the MLB At-Bat app would cut out after only a few minutes of listening, forcing users to have to go back in the broadcast to hear what happened. Other times, the audio would never come back. In those cases, fans would have to exit the app and re-enter, meaning they got to watch even more pre-roll ads. Wow! What a great combo! That ad revenue must be doing numbers!

What’s the short-term solution?

Manfred’s short-term solution in case of DSG’s bankruptcy doesn’t quell any concerns either. DSG’s biggest flaw was its belief in cable television, but with the rate Americans have been ditching cable altogether, the company quickly started to lose money. Through the first three quarters of 2022, the company had lost nearly $1.2 billion. So, should MLB be forced to take over broadcasting services, they’ll obviously avoid making a similar mistake, right? No. How foolish of you to even think that.

“We think it will be both linear in the traditional cable bundle and digitally on our own platforms,” said Manfred. “We would go directly to distributors — meaning Comcast, Charter, the big distributors — and make an agreement to have those games distributed on cable networks.”

Awesome, so the league is, at least for now, going to follow the same steps that pushed DSG into potential bankruptcy. Cool! Cool, cool, cool!

Now, I understand that MLB probably doesn’t have the time to formulate a better plan moving forward, but Manfred offered no hope that another plan was in the works. He just said he likes to prepare for a worst-case scenario, but doesn’t seem to be preparing for when their broadcasting plan inevitably fails.

Even worse is that should MLB take command over their own broadcasting rights, they could have a straight path toward eliminating local market blackouts, a change that numerous fans had been clamoring for for years. However, offering such easy direct-to-consumer access wouldn’t give MLB a chance to earn as much money as it generates through cable. So, when Manfred was asked whether blackouts would be leaving should MLB take over, he responded “Not in the short term.”

It’s so frustrating because the league has constantly claimed it has a shared interest in removing blackouts, but when an opportunity arises, the league refuses to follow through. As I said, I understand that the dire circumstance will create an eagerness to return to normalcy ASAP. However, a perfect moment to make a change everyone involved has been clamoring for has possibly presented itself, and yet the league’s first response is “Actually, we won’t be doing that.”

Competition for broadcasting/streaming rights should theoretically create new, interesting experiences for fans. However, if MLB takes full control of its product and doesn’t opt to give fans what they want, I fear the sport I love will take two steps backward in terms of accessibility, and it wasn’t doing too well in that department, to begin with. MLB consistently fails to improve on its own product, and now, it could be in charge of providing games to the public. It’s funny, in a sad way. Having MLB on cable has always sucked, but now I, and many other fans, are hoping MLB finds a way to get cable to pick them up if DSG goes under. May God have mercy on us all.

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.