MLB's Expansive and Convoluted Blackout Policy Faces a Lawsuit

Jeff Passan has the story of MLB’s blackout policy and territorial rights, and a lawsuit filed last month to challenge it. Fernanda Garber and three other fans are suing MLB, MLB Advanced Media, DirecTV, and nine teams who are broadcast on eight stations, claiming they are colluding to package out-of-market games and exploiting a monopoly.

MLB, of course, has an anti-trust exemption that is often used to engage in business practices that would otherwise be deemed illegal. Whether the suit has any chance depends on the interpretation of that exemption as well as the broadness of what MLB does with territorial rights.

I’ve been blissfully lucky living in a market where there is only one designated home team, and its the local one that is within 15 miles. Some of MLB’s territorial rights, though, border on the comical and the absurd, and often prevent fans from seeing baseball games by their favorite team, even if they buy packages such as Extra Innings.

Here is a map of the MLB blackout areas for the contiguous United States. You’ll be happy to know that everything except for a few gators in Everglade National Park have been designated as a home region for at least one team, often multiple. Some areas have as many as six different teams sharing territorial rights as a home market, though they residents of those regions would have to travel for a full day just to see a home game.

Iowa gets divided between the Twins, Royals, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, and White Sox. If you are a Tigers fan and want to watch, you better subscribe to all their regional networks. Las Vegas is the home territory of six different teams from out West — the Dodgers, Angels, Diamondbacks, Athletics, Giants, and Mariners. If you live in Memphis, it’s the Cardinals, Reds and Braves, though you can cross the river into West Memphis, Arkansas, and switch to Cardinals, Royals, Rangers and Astros. Why would Northern Mississippi be in any home team region? Or Hawaii?

The original stated purpose of the blackout rules in sports was to drive home attendance, as teams feared that they would lose gate draw if people could just watch at home. No more, not with these very broad territories. The NFL’s blackout policy in blacking out local games after often taking public money for stadiums seems reasonable in comparison. Of course, the current purpose with having locations 500 or more miles away counted as a home territory and having numerous regions with multiple teams having local rights is to drive up the value of the regional sports networks, which in turn flows through to MLB and the teams when they negotiate those TV deals.

[photo via US Presswire]


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