MLB.TV is turning 20 this year, a remarkable milestone considering the age of streaming in general; the service was streaming live MLB games five years before Netflix first dipped its toe into streaming video, and three years before YouTube existed at all. In two decades, MLB.TV has achieved plenty of streaming firsts, but its most important achievement may be in the works even now.
According to a report from The Sports Business Journal, Major League Baseball is currently thinking about how to untangle its vast web of home market blackouts in order to allow subscribers to stream in-market games.
There are few specifics available from league officials right now, but when asked about the possibility of streaming local games, Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden replied, “I would say there’s going to be more to come on that front … I hope at one point to have in-market [streaming] available on the product as well.”
That means that discussions are likely underway regarding the proposal. Making this happen will assuredly be a difficult endeavor that will likely take several years to resolve, however. Home market blackouts are the result of clauses written into broadcast agreements with MLB’s media partners, so there’s a lot of money at stake in changing the status quo.
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, where you change one dynamic and it has four other ripple effects,” MLB’s executive VP of business development Kenny Gersh said according to SBJ. “But we are laser focused on that topic and are trying to see how we can navigate the rights landscape to ensure that anybody around the globe who wants to watch a Major League Baseball game has a seamless-as-possible way to do so.”
If Major League Baseball solves its blackout problem, however, the implications for the rest of the sports world would be enormous. Whatever strategy the MLB comes up with will surely serve as a model for other leagues in their quest to bring more content to streaming.
The league isn’t the only service attempting to make local baseball games available for streaming. Sinclair Media Group soft-launched its in-market Bally Sports+ app in June with five baseball teams, the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, and Tampa Bay Rays. The service is hoping to add more MLB rights before the 2023 season, but to date has not announced any other plans. While the service does have rights to 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams, consumers are only able to stream games from their local teams. MLB.TV is hoping to allow fans to watch both in and out-of-market streaming.
This is not the first time that MLB.TV has attempted to incorporate in-market games into the streaming app. In 2015, MLB and FOX began offering in-market games, but they required users to log in with an authenticated account, similar to how TV Everywhere logins work. With Sinclair struggling to sign up more MLB teams for its service, perhaps the company could work out a similar agreement with the league to potentially add Bally Sports+ as an add-on to the existing MLB.TV platform.
The NFL recently launched NFL+, which does allow subscribers to access live local games, but only from their phones or tablets. However, games cannot be streamed to TVs via NFL+, indicating that the league has also not completely solved the issue of satisfying broadcast partners while offering in-market customers a purely streaming option. Streaming is the future of live sports, but how to get to that future is still a bit murky.
MLB.TV is the official streaming service of Major League Baseball. You can see every out-of-market game live or on demand, and choose home or away TV and radio feeds. The app allows fans to watch up to four games simultaneously on the same screen through their Multi-view feature.
Users can choose to follow the entire league for “All Teams” (US$ 129.99) plan, which is also available for $24.99 a month, or you can stream one team’s out-of-market games for “Single Team” (US$ 109.99).
One major caveat about the service: Your local games may be blacked out through MLB.TV, so you may still need to watch through your local provider.
If you’d like to go beyond the games, MLB.TV provides features, documentaries, and classic games.
NFL+ allows fans to watch live local and primetime games on mobile and tablet devices. And with an NFL+ Premium subscription, you can watch replays of every single game without ads, condensed game replays, and coaches film. The service also allows fans to choose their audio stream (home, away, and national calls).
The service also allows users to watch out-of-market preseason games on any device. Users can also access NFL library programming ad-free.