A brief analysis of the MLB blackout policy and the impact it has on the younger generation of fans.
Ask any older baseball fan why they love their team—I will almost guarantee you it’s because their parents were fans of that same team. Maybe they grew up watching the games on television with their parents in the summer evenings. They continued supporting these teams as they grew up and eventually their children became fans too.
We stay loyal to these ball clubs because we associate them with spending time with family.
Unfortunately for the MLB, this is not the case anymore; younger sports fans are not watching or attending baseball games like their parents and grandparents used to. MLB’s most avid fans are aging out, and there’s really not a whole lot of younger fans there to replace them.
So, what’s the issue?
Is it the pace of play? This year, 2020, the average baseball game lasted 3 hours and 9 minutes. That’s only slightly down from the previous few years. Take a 162 game schedule and multiply that by over 3 hours a game, and your total viewing time is a whopping 502 hours and 20 minutes, or nearly 21 days. That’s a lot of baseball!
Are people not recognizing baseball’s star players?
These days, it seems that all the household names in the US come from the NFL or NBA. The NBA has always done an excellent job of marketing its star players. Millions of Americans, whether they follow sports or not, will most likely recognize Lebron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant. Show those same people a picture of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, or Mookie Betts, and there’s a good chance they won’t know who they are. As a marketer and a sports fan, it’s frustrating to see these players not reaching their full branding potential.
How about accessibility? It’s expensive to attend 81 home games a year. That’s not including if you travel to any of the away games as well.
Should MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred consider giving baseball fans more access to content?
Consider the MLB blackout policy, which basically makes it much harder—and more expensive—to watch teams from other regions. For example, the Atlanta Braves pretty much have a monopoly on the entire South. Let’s say this kid, Johnny, is from Boston, so he’s a Red Sox fan, but his family moves to Charlotte. Now his family would have to purchase either MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings in order to watch the Red Sox. They would have to pay for this on top of the cable service they’re already subscribed to. Little Johnny isn’t likely to grow up loyal to baseball.
Now, what if little Sally is a Cleveland Indians fan and lives in Buffalo, NY. There are a good amount of Indians’ fans in Buffalo as it is a three-hour drive. MLB Extra Innings won’t help. Because in Buffalo, you simply cannot watch Cleveland’s baseball team unless they are on national tv. That’s ridiculous!
An Accessible Idea
The blackout policy is an excellent way for the MLB to make some extra cash in the short run. They know there’s a market of baseball junkies who will purchase these packages every year. In the long run, however, it might not be very effective.
If they can curate their content and provide it consistently and reliably across a universal platform, they might be able to gain more long-term fans. Let’s use Netflix for example. People will purchase a Netflix subscription for multiple reasons. One of those reasons might be that Netflix has a particular show or movie that only they have the exclusive rights to on their platform. That subscription gives you access to the same content no matter where you are in the United States (assuming you’re based in the US). It doesn’t matter if you live in Florida or Oregon, you can watch Stranger Things and Peaky Blinders all the same.
For the MLB, giving away content would be allowing their subscribers to view games on a universal platform where “local” blackouts don’t exist (even if they have to pay for it). And I’m using the term “local” very loosely in this case. Is that 3-hour drive from Buffalo to Cleveland really local? No. Which is why it makes this even more bizarre. And that’s not even the worst of it. If you happen to live in Des Moines, Iowa, then RIP Cubs, Royals, Twins, White Sox, Brewers, and Cardinals fans. You’d be blacked out from 20 percent of the entire league!
Play the Long Game
If the MLB wants younger fans like Johnny and Sally to stay fans for life, they might want to think of allowing subscribers and fans to view their content, a.k.a. baseball games. It doesn’t have to be every game from every team. Obviously, there are contracts with national and local TV stations that would have to be worked out. But the revenue brought in by generations of life-long fans (remember, Johnny and Sally will both eventually have children and grandchildren) seems to be less short-sided.
We talk a lot about sports content and blackouts. More on this topic.