Why, those sweethearts over at Major League Baseball.
After fans wrung their hands for weeks over baseball’s controversial and impending deal with DirecTV to carry its Extra Innings out-of-market broadcast package, it turns out the contract that was officially unveiled yesterday says nothing about exclusivity.
In fact, Dish Network and iN Demand (which, in essence, represent TimeWarner, Comcast, and Cox) have until the end of the month to agree to terms already set forth by DirecTV in its $700 million agreement, including carrying the MLB network, which won’t even hit the airwaves until 2009. If no agreement is reached, DirecTV will be the only source for Extra Innings, leaving thousands of displaced fans without a package they had come to rely on.
That’s like saying Bush has until 3 p.m. today to get out of Iraq.
Here’s a hint in case you’re arriving to the proceedings late: Neither deadline (MLB’s or our fictional one) is going to pass with any sort of resolution, and in fact, the latter might actually have more of a shot in all of its implied unreality.
"I certainly would hope it would alleviate the concerns," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said in announcing the deal, “because the product is now being offered to everyone that had the product.”
Yeah, huge sigh of relief out there, Bob. That’s like saying I’ll offer my old girlfriend one more shot at me, but only if she agrees to wear a tutu and sing “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” for my parents twice a day, because hey, that’s what Sally is willing to do for me.
The deal may not be “exclusive,” but it is, in all reality, exclusive. iN Demand president Robert Jacobson has already said the terms were impossible and called it a "de facto exclusive deal." The only way Dish Network and iN Demand can get back into the game is by agreeing by March 31 to the same list of terms that it just took MLB and DirecTV lawyers two months to iron out.
The crux of the agreement is the inclusion of the MLB network -- which certainly wants to open on a broader landscape than the NFL Network -- on a basic tier, which DirecTV has agreed to carry and be a minor partner of when it makes its debut in 2009. The network has a bona fide lineup on tap that includes, talent that's TBD but will inexplicably probably include McCarver and Morgan, and advertising opportunities that are TBD. Awesome. My application is already in the mail, but I fear my general lack of the necessary public relations and schlock might axe my candidacy.
We have to admit though, we’re excited for such programming as “The George Mitchell Report,” in which baseball’s Colombo will update us daily where he’s at in his relentless steroid investigation. Start holding breath ... now.
DuPuy admitted that the fans’ response to the criticized deal made baseball open up the floor to others once again in a somewhat unrealistic time frame to agree on terms that were not all made public yesterday. That could, we imagine, possibly include a monthly kickback to MLB as part of its network, of which DirecTV just happens to be a minor partner. In essence, you’ll be siphoning cash to a competitor, which is always a great business move.
The New York Times’s Richard Sandomir has the $700 million question that is on everyone’s mind today:
But DuPuy acknowledged that baseball listened to the fans’ anger and adjusted, which makes one question why Commissioner Bud Selig showed such a lousy grasp on the art of customer relations in his recent declaration that the controversy over the potential loss of Extra Innings to DirecTV is “ridiculous.” If it was a silly tempest blown out of proportion by sportswriters, why adjust one’s negotiations for it? If devoted fans around the country willing to pay $179.95 are squawking loudly, why label it ridiculous?
Because if there needed to be just one more example as to just how ridiculously out of touch baseball is with its fan base, this is now the prime one. Nothing has changed in this process except some PR maven dashing in at the last moment with an idea that will put the onus on the cable companies. It’s the poison pill theory; make them an offer that doesn’t really exist so they can’t really match it and you look like the good guy. There should be “Selig for President” bumper stickers on Volvos across the land by May.
The bigger issue here is the quieter stipulation: Customers who cannot watch via satellite can sign up for MLB.tv. In its quest to rid the world of any other website but their own, mlb.com is setting itself up to be the biggest benefactor in all of this. Despite the numbers that Major League Baseball is spitting out about how few people this affects, the wide-ranging complaints dispute that. Enter mlb.com -- the Obi-Wan of this charade, more powerful than you could possibly imagine -- alleviating all your fears. Oh, and buy a hat while you’re at it.
There’s a reason why you don’t see any baseball highlights on this site or other news web entities. Major League Baseball owns all rights to those video clips -- even if they are broadcast on NESN -- and patrols other sites like a hawk over road kill to ensure its product isn’t being presented elsewhere. This year, MLB extended that embargo to spring training highlights in order to get fans to sign up early for their mlb.tv product ($89.95 for the season), which will provide out-of-market games for fans on their computers.
The fact is, this isn’t nearly as much about exclusivity as it is taking a further step to ensuring the league has complete control of its product. Objectivity and critique will be a thing of the past; Baseball in the Community and Those Wacky Mascots will become the everyday message eked out by the hardball Gestapo in lieu of anything that might be the least bit controversial.
This nonexclusivity is just a loophole created to give you some sense of false hope -- like the fact that the Devil Rays are suiting up for another season. Nothing has changed, and nobody wins except Major League Baseball, a league that can continue to do whatever it wants, however it wants, and gets away with it in record attendance year after year. Prices go up and so do the complaints. But so do the fannies in the seats. Why should MLB change its business practices?
On another note, the bidding for hooking Slingbox up to my TV may commence now.