Baseball’s business is booming. But the business of baseball, to provide a serene multi-hour retreat from the incessant clamor of life, that business is not booming. We’ve entered a new age in sports capitalism. The fans, truly, are becoming more and more marginalized from a financial standpoint. Sponsors and impossibly lucrative television contracts make drawing fans in increasingly irrelevant. It’s a game that has yet to adapt to the times, and clumsily congratulates itself when it does (see the implementation of instant replay). I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly or bitter – the MLB succeeding financially is a wonderful, wonderful thing -, but the game’s become elitist in accessibility from a technological standpoint. Luckily, all of this should be soon to change.
Reports have surfaced showing Major League Baseball’s intent to lift their blackout policy on MLB.TV, thus opening up local markets finally to fans who don’t always have the time, or money, to travel to their “local” stadium. I place local in quotation marks because a quick examination of the scope of the blackouts (shown in the map below) shows that fans are often refused access to their in-state or favorite teams despite being physically so removed from them that regular attendance in stadiums would be entirely impractical.
COME ON MLB. I don’t need to do a close study of the insane distances or numerical impossibilities of restricting this access, but I might as well for the sake of argument. From Safeco Field in Seattle to the Montana/South Dakota/Wyoming border is 18 hours driving. 1,074 miles. Let’s hope they’re Twins fans instead. And then New York, millions of people full, is completely restricted from both of their teams, whose stadiums could hold a tiny fraction of the population. There are clear economic benefits to lifting these restrictions.
1) Drawing in the casual fan
Fans who would prefer to watch their local team in spurts or wouldn’t want to be tied to the hours it takes to drive to and from the stadium in some cases would be more willing to shell out the $20 a month for the MLB.tv subscription. That’s already far less than the ticket price, not to mention concessions.
2) Increase in merchandising sales
Once the casual fan has been roped in, one must assume that some of these fans, then, want to sport their team pride. A previously untapped market would now be open to the (admittedly pricey) world of sports merchandise, but this, again becomes possible only once the viewing market is opened.
3) COMING TO THE GAMES
So you’ve finally found out that you love baseball, and that every once in awhile, watching from home just doesn’t cut it. Look at the signs! ‘I want to jeer and dance and get sunburned!’, you think. It’s a domino effect. The casual stay-at-home fan finds themselves enthralled by the beautiful game live, and makes the decision to finally attend a game.
It’s almost too simplistic. Opening up the MLB.tv viewing base completely would allow a whole new set of fans to enjoy the game. And with younger people constituting a smaller and smaller percentage of MLB fans, the league needs to do everything it can to attract the next generation. Remembering that we’ve been raised on television and computers is a good place to begin.