Blackout blues: Major League Baseballs broadcast restrictions crimp the cord-cutters

Blackout blues: Major League Baseballs broadcast restrictions crimp the cord-cutters

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For Meyers, this means he’s blocked from watching most of the Pirates games. But even out-of-region fans run into restrictions. Molly Cushing, a Washington Nationals fan who lives in Tempe, Ariz., and subscribes to MLB.tv, said she comes across random blackouts, like when the Nationals play the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I think the surprise makes me even more frustrated,” said Cushing, 30.

Some parts of the country have more than one team blocked off. Fans in Connecticut are prevented from streaming games for the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox. Fans in Hawaii aren’t allowed to watch any of the five California teams. Fans in Las Vegas and Iowa are blocked from watching six teams each.

The blackouts are a constant source of irritation for fans, said Phillip Swann, a television industry analyst who runs TVanswerman.com.

“There’s probably not a subject that I’ve written about that has created more frustration that MLB blackouts,” said Swann, who has covered the television industry for more than 20 years. “People can’t understand if they live in a city like Vegas, why can’t they watch the Dodgers. They’re obviously not getting in a car and driving to the stadium.”

While cord-cutters, and complaints about streaming blackouts, have grown since Dish Network introduced Sling TV as a lower-cost alternative to cable in 2015, the rules that cause the blackouts date to the 1930s and are the result of complex partnerships among the league, the 30 individual teams and the broadcasters that air their games.

While the league sells rights to select national games, each team negotiates its own local broadcast deal with a regional sports cable network, such as Fox Sports Arizona, which carries Diamondbacks games, or New England Sports Network, which airs the Red Sox. The in-market blackouts exist to protect those exclusive deals, officials told NBC News. Baseball officials consider the regional networks to be the primary way for fans to watch local games, while MLB.tv serves to fill in the gaps for fans who don’t live in range of a particular network.

Baseball isn’t the only sport dealing with local-market streaming blackouts. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League also prohibit in-market viewing on their streaming services.

Cord-cutters do have options. Streaming services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue and fuboTV carry several of the regional sports networks, allowing viewers to catch games without signing up for cable package. And this season MLB and YouTube have teamed up to stream select games online for free.

But those options don’t help Meyers. The Pirates are currently scheduled to play on ESPN one more time this season, giving him just one last chance to see his team on TV.

“The blackouts affect a lot of people,” Meyers said. “They could be gaining more money if they removed them to let the locals watch their favorite teams.”

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