In an interview posted today, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! talked to Commissioner Rob Manfred and they hit on a wide range of topics including the Garber lawsuit, which MLB settled last week just moments before it was set to go to trial. At the heart of the suit was how fans are able to watch their preferred team, whether in-market or not, and how much that will cost. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs has done some great work on the ins-and-outs of the lawsuit and what the settlement means going forward and I encourage reading his columns if you want the finer details. And if you're so inclined you can read the full details of the settlement here.
But here's a quick and abbreviated FAQ primer on the Garber suit and the ramifications of the settlement:
What was this lawsuit about anyway?
In my own simplistic terms, MLB.tv is too expensive and the blackout policy is unfair and leaves too many in-market fans in the dark. Also, as Grow noted, the suit attacked MLB's broadcasting model which doesn't allow teams to compete in outside markets, which may have been the impetus for MLB wanting to focus the settlement largely on the cost of streaming and the blackout issues as their broadcast model was left intact.
So they settled. What's in it for me?
MLB.tv is now officially going to offer a package until at least 2020 which will allow fans to follow only their preferred team for a reduced price.
And how much will that cost?
In 2016, the price for streaming a single-team package on MLB.tv will be $84.99. For comparison sake, last year MLB.tv cost $129.99, which included access to every out of market team but only because that was the lone option on the table. Or, if you had the Extra Innings package through your cable or dish service as I did, you paid $199.99.
Say I still want to have the option to watch every team? What's my cost look like now?
Full service MLB.tv will now cost $109.99.
Anything else on the new costs?
Yes. Until 2020, the $84.99 and $109.99 prices for the respective packages can only be increased by 3% each year or the rate of inflation, whichever is higher.
Will the Extra Innings package allow subscribers to just follow one preferred team as well?
Yes. As part of the settlement, cable and dish providers are now allowed (but not forced) to offer single-team packages so long as this feature is extended to all 30 teams. Meaning DishTV can't offer to air just Yankees games without doing the same for the Padres, Rays, etc.
And how much will that cost?
I don't know. I researched a bit online and couldn't find a figure. If I somehow missed it please feel free to point me in the right direction.
But how about the price of the full Extra Innings package? Was that also impacted by the settlement?
Most likely. Again, I couldn't find a figure online but I called DirecTV and spoke to David. I didn't get David's last name but he's a Tigers fan and though he was hearing about the Garber lawsuit for the first time he was intrigued enough. David put me on hold and returned in a suitable time to say that the Extra Innings package is still being configured for 2016, but that they should have a price by February 7th, 2016, when the package will start being advertised to customers. When asked if it will definitely be cheaper, he said, "Yes. Well, it should be. I really have no idea." Fair enough.
Has the blackout policy been improved at all?
Sort of. Fans who live in areas unable to access cable or dish television will no longer be subject to blackouts.
Also, beginning in July, there will be a "Follow Your Team" option for an extra $10 added on the MLB.tv price which will allow you to watch the away broadcast for your preferred team when they'd normally be subject to MLB's regional blackout policy - so long as you subscribe to your home team's regional sports network. For example, I live in Washington, DC. If I paid the $10 for this feature, I'd be able to stream the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast for Cardinals games when they play in DC so long as my television package includes the MASN Network which airs Nationals games. But hold up, this option doesn't kick in until July? The Cardinals only series in DC this year begins in late April. What is this July madness?
That aside, before all in-market games would have been unavailable to stream. But as you see, part of the condition for the Follow Your Team feature is paying for the channel which provides the game in the first place so any improvement is rather minimal.
But what about fans in the blackout-rich areas like Des Moines, IA, Honolulu, and Las Vegas? Will they finally be spared of these archaic blackouts?
Nope. Fans in those regions - which have an absurd six "local" teams subject to blackouts - are still on the short end. Commissioner Manfred had this to say in his interview with Passan:
Passan: How does baseball benefit from preventing people in Las Vegas and Iowa from watching up to 40 percent of games on an average weeknight with blackouts?
Manfred: It doesn't. It just plain doesn't.
That's not a very satisfactory answer but it's at least an acknowledgement that a problem exists.
So how big of victory is this for baseball fans?
That's likely in the eye of the beholder. For someone like me who's out of market and used to paying $200 to be able to watch the Cardinals each year, an $85 option to stream every single Cardinals game is a pretty attractive incentive to drop the Extra Innings package and start using MLB.tv. But as you see, MLB still has a lot of work to do for fans in certain parts of the country to figure out how to do away with their overly-onerous blackout policy.