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The Impending Battle Over the Future of Televised Baseball

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The Impending Battle Over the Future of Televised Baseball | FanGraphs Baseball

Next week, in a federal courtroom in New York City, the future of televised baseball will be at stake. On one side, attorneys representing baseball fans at-large will contend that MLB’s existing broadcast policies violate the Sherman Antitrust Act by illegally limiting competition and consumer choice, ultimately increasing the price we pay for televised baseball. On the other side, lawyers for Major League Baseball will seek to preserve the status quo by arguing that the league’s restrictions increase both the quantity and quality of games aired on television, to the benefit of fans.

The case — Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball — may not be the highest-profile lawsuit currently proceeding against MLB. But from the league’s perspective, it’s almost certainly the most important.

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While I generally favor the idea of breaking the monopoly, I think this paragraph from the linked story is a good point:

MLB can also be expected to emphasize the issue of competitive balance, contending that allowing individual teams to compete with one another in the local and national television marketplaces would drive an even greater percentage of broadcasting revenue to the largest market teams, ultimately impacting the quality of the competition on the playing field. Not only would allowing the New York Yankees to sign their own broadcasting agreements with television stations in Cincinnati or Milwaukee increase the Yankees’ team revenue, for instance, but it would also decrease the amount of local television revenue received by the Reds and Brewers, further exacerbating the existing revenue disparities between the teams.

Even here in west Michigan after the Tigers have been very good for many years I still see quite a few Yankees hats and some Dodgers or Angels hates. (There's a decent number of Cubs hats around too, but that's less surprising as they are often "natural" Chicago fans who've migrated a touch north.)

I tend to think that in some retirement areas (Tampa Bay for example) the Yanks might be able to get more TV revenue than the Rays.

I hate to squash capitalism, but at the same time I want to see a good, competitive league that means trying to keep resources at least partial on par between teams.

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Sports are a curious business because while teams compete with one another within the league, a sports league is for many intents and purposes a single business and thus what is good for one team off the field may be worse for the sport as a whole. In the past sometimes the courts have recognized this reality and have ruled against teams suing to upset the league apple cart - but you never know - it's an ambiguous area by nature.

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MLB TV to offer $85 single-team packages as part of settlement | MLive.com

NEW YORK (AP) — Just as a trial was to begin, Major League Baseball and its fans reached agreement Tuesday to expand the menu of online packages for televised games.The deal came weeks after baseball's lawyers told a judge that for the first time the league was going to let fans buy single-team online TV packages. In the past, viewers who didn't live in their favored teams' home markets had to buy access to every single televised MLB game.

According to lawyers for fans who filed the class-action lawsuit in 2012, MLB will offer unbundled Internet packages for the next five years, including single-team packages for $84.99 next season. They said that's a 23 percent drop from the cheapest version previously available.

"We believe this settlement brings significant change to the sports broadcasting landscape," said one of the plaintiff lawyers, Ned Diver. "It is a big win for baseball fans."

In a statement, Major League Baseball confirmed the settlement but said it could not comment further because "the process remains ongoing." A lawyer for the league did not immediately comment.

The trial had been scheduled to start Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, though officials indicated last week that it was unlikely to take place as both sides and the judge ceased filing papers associated with the case.

MLB's lawyers also said recently they were planning to make the same changes to their television packages as the National Hockey League made when it settled its side of the lawsuit last year. The NHL also agreed to let fans buy single-team packages.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that baseball could not use its antitrust exemption as a defense.

The lawsuits had claimed that the leagues' clubs and some television broadcast entities collude to eliminate competition in the airing of games on the Internet and on television. Baseball had defended a decades-old system of regional television contracts designed to protect each baseball team's area from competitors.

More recently, baseball has multiplied options for fans so that they can get games on various electronic devices.

"Make no mistake, this mission is not altruistic," baseball's lawyers said in court papers last month. "Baseball faces fierce competition, including from other sports offerings and an increasing slate of non-sports entertainment and leisure options."

Diver had argued in court papers that dividing the country into geographic territories for each team had strengthened baseball's monopoly and permitted it to overcharge fans.

The agreement provides other options to consumers who already subscribe to regional sports cable networks. The league will allow a cable subscriber to buy access to a visiting team's broadcast online. MLB also agreed that it will try to provide live local team broadcasts over the Internet for authenticated cable subscribers by the start of the 2017 season.

The deal makes no mention of fans who don't subscribe to cable and wish to view their local teams online.

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I guess I don't understand the "resolution". They are still cutting off product from prospective consumers. As I understand it, if I live in Vegas, I cannot watch San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, both Los Angeles, and both Bay Area teams unless the game is carried locally. What sense does that make? That's 7 teams out of 30 that are cut out of Extra Innings package.

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I guess I don't understand the "resolution". They are still cutting off product from prospective consumers. As I understand it, if I live in Vegas, I cannot watch San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, both Los Angeles, and both Bay Area teams unless the game is carried locally. What sense does that make? That's 7 teams out of 30 that are cut out of Extra Innings package.

Yep.

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