By Alex Obal
MLB Extra Innings and MLB.tv, the broadcast and online services that allow baseball fans to watch games that don’t involve their local team, will likely be cheaper for fans in 2016.
But it still looks like baseball’s controversial blackout policy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Those are the terms of a proposed settlement in Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a four-year antitrust lawsuit which was scheduled for trial this week. Under the settlement, MLB will reduce the prices of MLB.tv and Extra Innings. But by settling, baseball can continue to divide the country into TV markets and avoid facing the risk that a court finds that illegal.
There will also be a further discounted version of MLB.tv available that allows fans to watch one specific team. The full package will cost $109.99; the one-team version, $84.99.
On the broadcast side, the price of Extra Innings will be lowered by 12.5% in 2016.
Previously, the one-team option wasn’t available for fans like Gary Reinmuth, a White Sox partisan in New Buffalo, Michigan. That’s just north of the Indiana border, 65 miles away from U.S. Cellular Field, an hour-long drive.
New Buffalo has a large contingent of Chicago fans. But for MLB’s purposes, it is Tigers territory, which means Reinmuth is stuck with the Detroit version of Comcast SportsNet.
“We get sports out of Detroit even though Detroit’s hundreds of miles away,” said Louis Price, another New Buffalo White Sox fan.
To watch the White Sox, out of market, he needs to subscribe to one of MLB’s packages. On top of that, to watch White Sox-Tigers games, he needs the Detroit sports channel.
In the past, he would only have been able to watch the Tigers’ broadcast of those games. But the settlement also allows fans to pay an extra $10 for the ability to watch “local” teams’ games on the opposing team’s feed. So White Sox fans in Michigan will now be able to watch Hawk Harrelson.
“I definitely prefer watching games with Sox announcers,” Reinmuth said, instead of “opposing teams’ announcers rattling on about their own players’ slumps or hitting streaks.”
The settlement allows MLB to avoid having a court determine whether its blackout policy violates antitrust law.
For consumers, the settlement gives them something right now, said Peter Leckman, partner at Langer Grogan & Diver P.C., which represented the plaintiffs in the case. Baseball fans get a lower price on their game packages this year. Without the settlement, it probably would have taken several years to figure out the final result of the case.
“There’s a huge risk for both sides in going to trial,” Leckman said. “What [the settlement] does is provide real relief right away.”
But it also means a strong challenge to the blackout policy has fallen by the wayside. Because this case settled, people who bought one of MLB’s packages after May 2008 can’t file new antitrust suits against the blackout restrictions, Leckman said. But an attorney general or the federal government could.