Yesterday, Deadspin complained about the new MLB Extra Innings deal. As a result DirectTV:
is taking away MLB Extra Innings. If you don't have DirectTV this year (or for the next seven years), you're not going to be able to order the MLB Extra Innings package, because DirectTV just paid $700 million for exclusive rights over the next seven years. It will also be the exclusive home to a 24-hour baseball channel.
Currently, 75 million people had the opportunity to purchase Extra Innings; 750,000 took them up on it, including us. Now, both those numbers will be dramatically decreased (including us). Remember, there are still millions of houses in this country that couldn't install DirectTV if they wanted to. There are millions more who see DirectTV for what it is, an inferior service with poor broadband selection, terrible customer service and technology that'll be outdated halfway through that baseball contract. Because of this deal, there will be fewer people watching baseball next year.
You really shouldn't have wondered, but if you did, here's more proof: Major League Baseball will do anything for a short-term dollar, even sell out its most devoted fans. You knew this, of course.
Olney devotes a good portion of his blog today to fans writing to complain about this deal.
Here are a couple of samples:
Is baseball going back to its days of short-sighted decisions? From what I understand, your potential audience goes from 65 million to 15 million. I was born and raised in Chicago, and I'm still a huge Cubs fan. I used to have the luxury of watching almost all of their games on WGN, but a vast majority of those are now gone to feed the local Chicago cable channel to give the Cubs more money (at least they spent some of it now). Now, I won't be able to get the Extra Innings package to compensate. This decision is infuriating!!
-- Tom Coffee, Chandler, Ariz.
While MLB will make a ton of money with the new seven-year contract, the fans are the ones who are getting (it stuck to them). As a non-DirecTV customer (my house doesn't allow for a direct link to the satellite), I won't have the ability to subscribe to the MLB package. And I am not alone. Most of the US aren't subscribers to DirecTV. In an age when one's attention can be satisfied with numerous fields of entertainment, why would MLB cut so many fans off from its product? Maybe they'll learn from this mistake, but then again, seven years from now, when the new deal has expired, a baseball fan such as myself may already be lost.
-- Bill Murphy, Philadelphia, Pa.
This is part of a growing trend. Last June I blogged about the degree to which this trade-off - more money for less audience - was affecting radio broadcasts of major league games:
The Cardinals are the latest team to switch from a mega-watt station with significant range to a smaller station with much more limited reach. KMOX, which broadcast the Cards for half a century said it was losing money on the broadcasts and offered less than the team wanted when it was time to re-negotiate at the end of last season. So, the RedBirds flew the coop to 5,000 watt KTRS, a station with a barely 15-mile listening radius. The incentive – KTRS offered the Cards 50% ownership in the station. The Cards’ rationale, other than the financial boon from the transaction is, they say, that there are more platforms from which to listen to the Cards than there used to be. Satellite radio (baseball motivated purchasers comprise a significant percentage of all XM customers) and MLB.com are among the major new players in broadcasting. But, as the WSJ points out, there’s also this undeniable fact: fewer and fewer people can listen to the games for free. This trend has long been underway on television. In the early 1990s, 80% of local MLB broadcasts were still on free television. Now, only 23% are broadcast in such a fashion. Seven teams, including the Red Sox, won’t have any free TV broadcasts this season.
And, there is no sport in which the fans' radio-based relationship to its team is more important than baseball's, given the medium's suitability for broadcasting baseball games and the fact that radio itself has been so integral to the game's history. So, if the sacred cow of radio baseball can be sacrificed on the altar of more money, it should be no surprise, as Deadspin says, that MLB Extra Innings would get the same treatment.
Sports broadcasting has been heading this way for a long time. The move from over-air broadcasting to cable, let us not forget, involved the same trade-off, especially two decades ago when not as many homes had cable as do now. It's always nice to think that profit-making is win-win, and that's certainly what big time sports entities (like all big businesses) like to tell their consumers. But, when the reward for repeat sell-outs at Fenway or 50,000 fans a night at Yankee Stadium is higher ticket prices and the surest path to a windfall is to cut out two-thirds of one's audience, it's time to stop being naive about what's driving the bus here.