Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baseball's Blackhearted Blackouts

I suppose I am late to the historical rant about Major league baseball's controversial television blackout policy. What I am looking for, sparked by my desire to watch baseball when I want and where I want, was the newest map of the MLB blackout areas. I was hoping it would help me to understand the poor implementation of the YES network, MASN and MASN2 on FIOS TV as well as the unnecessarily expensive MLB Extra Innings.

Apparently even MLB.TV on the web blacks out games in your local area because you are supposed to go buy tickets or watch it on the approved local channel. This has caused a lot of angry discussion among fans and commissioner Bud Selig had asked for a review of the policy. MLB.tv should also take back its slogan "Sign up for MLB.TV and never miss a game again!", it isn't true. It doesn't look like the review and changes to the policy occurred in time for this season. Thus the policy is painful and restrictive and doesn't mesh well with this strange new world of the internet. From the article summary:
  • Local Live Blackout: ALL LIVE MLB.TV games will be blacked out in each applicable Club's home television territory (except for certain home television territories for which MLB.com may offer in-market subscription services) or in Japan.
  • National Live Blackout (Regular Season): Due to Major League Baseball national exclusivities, each Saturday until 7:00 PM EST (beginning May 17, 2008 and continuing for remaining Saturdays during the regular season) and each Sunday night (for games that begin after 5:00 PM EST), all scheduled webcasts of games played within such time period will be blacked out.
  • National Live Blackout (Post Season): Due to Major League Baseball national exclusivities, during the MLB postseason, if you live within the following nations or territories, webcasts of all postseason games will be blacked out: United States, Canada, Guam, US Virgin Islands, South Korea and Japan.
  • NOTE: Due to broadcast restrictions, new MLB.TV and Condensed Game archives are limited to a playing time of five minutes in duration until 6 am ET on the day following that on which the applicable game commenced play.
The national blackouts are because either Fox (on Saturday), or ESPN (On Sunday Night) and now MLB Network (on Wednesday's) has exclusive rights to televised games. This also screws up MLB Extra Innings on cable, since many of those games are blacked out according to these rules also.

In my searches I found at least two maps of the blackout areas for the various teams. I also found maps close to but not exactlye blackout maps, whihc were somewhat helpful. They are somewhat similar to the United Countries of Baseball map from Stange Maps.

The maps below are based on some more rigorous data. The unincorporated territories above are certainly incorporated in real life, because there is money to be made, or imagined to be made. Or one could use this map based on survey results.

However, my goal is to find a map generated using official data from MLB and even to find the data myself.

This version (click on pic for bigger) was created by a helpful wikipedia user but does not get correctly credited in many articles on the topic (like here at the Biz of baseball).

I like the version above (click picture above for bigger) from a Yahoo article (map is presented without a credit), that includes the cities and team names so it is clearer when you look at a region. If multiple teams coexist in a region, all of those teams are blacked out on MLB.com or on MLB extra innings, with the expectation that you should watch the game on a local channel. This get really bad in baseball free Iowa, or if your cable company doesn't carry the correct local channel.

One can use the"Am I in a local live blackout region" dialogue box at the bottom of any of the MBT.tv mediacenter pages, to get a list of the blackout zip codes for any of the teams. Picking each team in succession would allow a file to be built and then the right software could map from that. I am surprised that I cannot find a Google maps mash up that does just that. I now have a list of all of the teams and their respective blocked out zip codes, I now need a list of every zip code with its lat. and long. and perhaps the population for fun, and I could make my own maps.


twincapes said...

Very interesting, thanks for the research. Hard to quantify, in unincorporated areas they could follow any team but the numbers are small as to be insignificant and fractured. And some have more of a national following like Yankeesa or Dodgers. Again hard to quantify. I think another factor is maybe like WGN from Chicago broadcasts nationally and presumably wouldnt black out in out of town matrkets, I wonder if thats created out of town fans, just because you can see a lot of White Sox games on TV? I hate the local blackouts, and a blacked-out game is not going to cause me to go to the game. I'll just find something else to do.

Richard said...

If WGN is showing a game with the local team it will be blacked out in that market. baseball doesn't balck out not sold out games, these blackouts just apply to the fact that whoever it is that has the local rights to broadcast the game, has the exclusive rights. No national channel or even MBL.tv can broadcast the game. Sometimes the national channels (ESPN on Sun, Fox on Sat, MLB network on Thurs) have the exclusive right to show the game and even the local stations can't show them.

The difficulty is when you are in a teams blackout area but your local station is not one that shows the game and then you can't watch it on MBL.tv or MLB extra innings or any other way. Iowa is a particularly bad place for this.