Yankees’ online viewing breakthrough

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New York Yankees fans soon will be able to watch games at a Manhattan coffeehouse or on their office computers thanks to a groundbreaking deal that paves the way for in-market streaming of games for all major league baseball teams.

Under the deal, Cablevision subscribers in the Yankees viewing area can pay a fee to watch the YES Network feed of the team’s games online. It is the first such deal in baseball, and other teams and regional sports networks are expected to follow later this year and in 2010.

“This is really a landmark deal that’s a long time in coming. … We’ve broken a logjam” YES Network president and CEO Tracy Dolgin said.

Fans have been able to access out-of-market games online for several years through baseball’s MLB.TV service. But introducing a similar product for in-market games was trickier because of myriad technical, legal and financial issues.

In this case, the Yankees, YES Network (which is largely owned by the team) and Cablevision all needed to reach terms that were not in violation of existing television rights. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball Advanced Media needed to produce technology to verify that fans watching are in the New York area.

Fans can begin using the service July 8 by paying $49.95 for the season or $19.95 for any 30-day period. To get the service, fans must subscribe to both Cablevision’s television and Internet services.

“What they’re paying for here is the portability, the convenience and the feature set that comes with an online offering,” Dolgin said.

Baseball officials said other teams will follow suit this year and next, but universal availability of in-market streaming appears to be a long way off.

The Yankees deal still represents only one agreement with a single cable provider. Reaching terms with all cable providers will take years, and it is unclear how fans can get the service if their cable company is not also a broadband provider. (Satellite subscribers, for instance, might find themselves shut out.)

Still, other teams have a clear incentive to push for the service, given the opportunity for new revenue.

Teams that own shares of their regional sports networks - the Red Sox, Orioles and Nationals, for example - likely will be the first to strike deals. But the service should appeal to other regional sports networks and cable providers as well because they will get a share of the money.

“We’re hoping other clubs climb aboard,” MLB president Bob DuPuy said.

A spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which televises Nationals and Orioles games, said the network is reviewing the in-market streaming issue. He said MASN expects to make a statement about it in the future but did not offer a timeline.

The creation of in-market streaming might seem to provide a remedy to the confusing blackout policies that prevent some fans from seeing the games of their hometown teams.

But DuPuy said the blackout issue is a separate one that officials still are working to resolve.

“That remains an issue for us, and we are trying to solve it,” DuPuy said. “Our goal is to provide as many games to our fans on as many devices and in as many fashions as possible.”

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