There has been plenty of hubbub this week over Major League Baseball's decision to exclusively award DirecTV its Extra Innings package (in exchange for $700 million), leaving baseball fans across the country in cable limbo. Some, no matter what Doc Brown says, see going with the dish the equivalent of hanging onto to that home Beta system ... just in case. Others maintain the dish offers just as much as your landline cable system, at about half the price.
Let me say that I'm thisclose to returning to the dish -- after a seven-year absence -- for a multitude of reasons, including the drastic price difference and the ability to tack on the NFL Direct Ticket package onto a litany of winter weekend excuses, as well as giving the spouse the ability to catch the Steelers (lose). (I promised I wouldn't put lose in there, but putting in parentheses makes it seem less sinister, no?)
But until NESN goes to an HD format beyond the Boston DMA and south into Foxborough, that's not going to happen. And Comcast will still get my money for its Internet broadband service, which is vastly superior to any DSL service I've utilized and well worth the extra mortgage I pay for it monthly. I just won't shell out an additional $40 for whatever those extra channels are just so I can get the NFL Network.
That being said, MLB should be taken to the woodshed for this one. Bad move.
Yes, the NFL also has exclusive rights with DirecTV, but it's a different beast. Whereas the NFL is a weekly venture, displaced fans still have the option of hitting up the local sports pub to catch their favorite team. At most, that's 16 trips to the bar during a season, and that's if you're a fan of, say, the Houston Texans and are living in Maine. You try explaining to your significant other why you've got to spend 162 nights this year down at taproom. Thanks, Bud.
So, let's not create this into a baseball gets raked over the coals while football is indestructible argument, because they're totally unrelated.
There are two real outstanding issues here with MLB's decision. First, they've instituted a stranglehold on the viewer, the baseball fan -- remember them? -- on what kind of format they must have in order to enjoy the product. If you don't want to sacrifice the quality of cable for the dish, then hey, tough luck. Unless you want to sign up for MLB.com's exclusive MLB.tv action and watch on your laptop. Great. Like you don't spend long enough on that thing. AppleTV, to the rescue? Only if MLB were to add an additional streaming format, and that has yet to happen. Don't hold your breath.
Second, what about the thousands of fans who enjoyed Extra Innings in their city dwelling apartments? Unless you want to try and convince your landlord exactly why you need to pop a satellite dish on top of their roof, you're flat out of luck.
Bottom line, the package might get fewer viewers, but the league gets more money.
"Business-wise, short-term, you can see baseball's side in this, if you forget about the fans," writes CNNSI.com's John Donovan. "A thirtieth of a $700 million deal will pay a good-sized piece of any team's over-inflated payroll. And a lot of the money that baseball sees from the DirecTV deal could go toward seeding the game's next big money-making venture, the MLB Channel, coming to a television near you around the 2009 season."
And therein is the true genesis of this all, MLB's wish to have what the NFL has. And yet, the MLB channel would exclusively be on DirecTV as well, which might or might not give it more viewers than the NFL's difficult-to-unearth diamond it has on its hands. I can only hope we can be offered such can't miss programming such as "The George Mitchell Chronicles," and "Bonds on Bonds."
Right, sorry, they actually did that one.
The pivotal question here where the Red Sox are concerned is, could this be worse-timed? Boston was poised to add to its already fervent fan base across the country with the presence of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was inevitably going to draw in a good number of Japanese baseball fans. Now those fans outside of New England are forced to either get the dish, or miss out on the mania. On the bright side, it'll be like the old days, when the Game of the Week meant something. On the other hand, McCarver hasn't been fired. You could always go out and get XM and merely listen, but that might get old right around Patriots Day.
If they can, or are willing, fans will chuck their cable boxes for the dish. And those that don't, well, MLB won't miss you, not as long as they have their $700 million.
As Tim Lemke writes in the Washington Times blog, "Now, MLB officials know people want their baseball. A Red Sox fan in Cleveland who's been catching their team's games on Extra Innings will NOT give up watching Sox games altogether just because baseball officials are greedy jerks."
Well, most won't. I'd end here by saying it's as simple as going to Circuit City and getting yourself a dish if you want to watch so badly. But for those that simply can't have access to the dish for one reason or another, it's not an option. Then again, neither was watching the Red Sox in Des Moines a decade ago. MLB.tv remains an option, but the product simply has to be better if they expect that to be a viable alternative to the dish.
So, your options:
1. Switch to DirecTV.
3. 162 tabs at the local sports bar
4. XM radio
If all that fails, you'll have to move for Major League Baseball. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.
Still, the J.D. Drew business is all a little strange, no?
We're talking almost two months now since the Red Sox and Drew agreed verbally on a contract that will pay the outfielder $70 million over five years, a deal that went over about as well with the New England public as Hilary's weekend press conference in the Kerry household. Part of that stemmed from the signal that it was the end of fan favorite Trot Nixon's time in Boston. The other half came from Drew's outrageous contract, which has come into even more question weeks later. (But hey, it's not your money, right?)
Because Drew's surgically repaired right shoulder raised a red flag during an initial physical back in December, it has those same fans concerned over the team doling out the cash for what very well could be damaged goods. So, the Sox and Scott Boras call in the lawyers and doctors to go over the deal with a fine-tooth comb, and complicate the language within the contract. This is serious business, after all. Drew gets injured and not only are the Sox out millions of dollars, but Wily Mo Pena (2 for 38 in the Dominican League this winter) is their starting right fielder.
"The deal will get done," Theo Epstein keeps assuring Red Sox fans, as if they're clamoring for it to get done in the first place. No, more relief might have been breathed out of the fan base had the Sox turned away from Drew a month ago, when the initial concerns were raised. Now, it's simply a matter of, well, it's too late to get anyone else.
Ken Rosenthal had an interesting observation when asked about the Drew snafu recently.
“The Red Sox had to know it was possible that such an issue might surface, given Drew's injury history. To me, their pursuit of the player was curious from the start. Drew's numbers are impressive, and he probably will benefit from being part of a powerhouse lineup. But his overall approach-real and/or perceived-is far too passive for such an intense market. I think that will create problems, maybe big problems. We have seen that some players are not suited for markets such as Boston and New York. Drew, from what we've seen, would appear to be Exhibit A. It will be fascinating to see how he fares.”
To me, that sounds an awful lot like Edgar Renteria, an oft-injured player who wilted under the pressure of Boston.
How'd that one work out?