According to league insiders, Major League Baseball (MLB) will consider giving teams the rights for in-market streaming, instead of selling them directly to Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) at the league-level. MLB’s contract with 22 Fox Regional Sports Networks is set to expire at the end of the year.
Disney, who acquired the channels in their deal for Fox, is working to sell these RSNs as part of a larger deal, but they may not come with in-market streaming rights. In the current deal, each RSN pays MLB $2 million for streaming rights, but right now MLB favors giving the individual teams those rights. Under the current terms, fans must either subscribe to cable or a live streaming service like PlayStation Vue, fuboTV, or YouTube TV to view in-market games.
Reportedly, the change has been pushed by the Yankees, who have been working towards this goal for at least 5 years. If this happens, then teams will be able to sell streaming rights directly to fans. This isn’t the first time MLB has considered streaming games over broadcasting them on exclusively on cable. Last year, Facebook bought exclusive national web streaming rights to 25 games on Facebook Watch, a deal that was worth between $30 and $35 million. They also streamed weekly out-of-market games on Twitter.
Right now, MLB offers an out-of-market streaming service through MLB.TV for fans that live away from their favorite teams. Customers can pay $10 for the “Follow Your Team” feature for in-market streaming, but that requires a cable subscription.
A streaming plan operated by individual team franchises could be a major blow to cable companies. About 30% of U.S. household don’t currently subscribe to any pay for TV service, a percentage of the population that teams see a source of potential growth. With sports being one of the main drivers for keeping cable, a direct-to-consumer option could be crippling. Rather than selling to an RSN, teams might sell their digital rights to platforms like Google or Amazon. It has been reported, that the New York Yankees are in talks with Amazon to buy out YES Network from Disney.
If this deal moves forward, we could expect to see more of the same in other sports leagues. Right now, only the NFL has enabled fans to watch games in-market without a cable subscription. They can do that because the NFL is the only league with full control of streaming rights.
Last year, they signed a deal with Verizon, giving them mobile live streaming rights across the United States. Fans can watch all in-market games on CBS and FOX, and all nationally televised games on NBC and ESPN. NFL fans can also stream Thursday night games through an Amazon Prime subscription, or for free on Amazon’s Twitch.
NBA and NHL fans haven’t been so lucky. While fans can watch live out-of-market games with NBA League Pass and NHL.TV, blackouts still apply to in-market broadcasts. Just like MLB fans, the only option for in-market streaming is either with a cable subscription or by subscribing to a vMVPD like AT&T TV NOW, Hulu Live TV, and YouTube TV.
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