Tuesday, January 23, 2007

All you seamheads out there probably already have heard that Major League Baseball is close to a deal that will give the exclusive rights to the MLB Extra Innings Package to DirecTV.

The satellite operator is reportedly going to pay MLB $700 million over seven years for the package, which gives fans access to most out-of-market baseball games. (It already has the exclusive rights to all out-of-market NFL games with its Sunday Ticket package.)

So, if you’re a Nationals fan but you live in Des Moines, your choices are as follows:

A) Sign on with DirecTV if you haven’t already.

or B) Be out of luck

Not exactly the most “pro-fan” move by Major League Baseball. In fact, it’s kind of evil. But when you analyze it, the deal is pure genius, and here’s why:

There is another way to see out-of-market baseball games. It’s called MLB.TV Internet service, which the league owns and operates.

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.

MLB officials know that if fans don’t currently get DirecTV, they’ll switch to it. Or, if those fans can’t get DirecTV, they’ll sign up for MLB.TV. So baseball wins no matter what.

Really, the only fans that MLB loses are those who don’t have high-speed Internet connections, and that segment of the population is dwindling every day. MLB is not going to make a business decision based on the small number of people who still toil with dial-up.

Some people have argued they don’t want the MLB.TV service because they don’t want to watch baseball on their computer screens. This is a valid point, but if they were hardcore enough fans to spend close to $200 for the Extra Innings Package, they’ll embrace the Internet if it’s the only option.

And besides, I’m willing to bet that by the time this deal with DirecTV ends, the quality of Internet broadcasting will be close to the quality of high-definition TV, making these satellite packages no longer necessary. So any move by baseball that would indirectly get people to sign up for MLB.TV — while also giving the league an extra $30 million per year — is a shrewd one.

The only problem I see with this plan (aside from its overall evil, greedy nature) is that there appears to be no real strategy to attract NEW subscribers to Extra Innings. It’s possible MLB feels like the sport is doing well enough that fans will sign on. But that’s an arrogant philosophy, and one which could backfire in the long term.

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