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Why Baseball on Local TV Is Becoming a Rarity

June 5th, 2018   ||    by Todd Wasserman   ||    No Comments

Baseball on local TV is becoming less and less common. Consider New York Mets fans, who had to tune into Facebook to watch their team play the Phillies on April 3. For many fans, that’s as close to watching a “free” game on TV as they can now get.

While you can still catch the occasional Yankees or Mets game on WPIX in New York, such access is becoming increasingly scarce. These days, ESPN and Fox Sports broadcast many Major League Baseball games. ESPN inked a $5.6 billion deal with MLB in 2012 that increased its broadcasts by 100 percent, as CBS Sports reported. Fox and Time Warner signed a similar deal that same year for $6.8 billion that also boosted its broadcasts by 100 percent, according to Forbes.

Those media giants have recognized what some local players apparently haven’t—that baseball, like live sports in general, is one of the few genres of programming viewers will watch live.

Baseball Disappears From Local TV

This year, viewers in the Washington, D.C., area will no longer be able to watch local Nationals and Orioles games on WJZ, a local CBS affiliate that had broadcast Orioles games since the mid 1990s, The Washington Post reported. This season, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) is the exclusive provider of Nats and Orioles games.

Similarly, in Los Angeles, the majority of homes in the area can’t access broadcasts of Dodgers games since the team’s SportsNet LA is owned by TimeWarner Cable, according to the LA Times.

Such regional sports networks are increasingly replacing baseball on local TV. Since 2000, most New York Yankees games have been broadcast on the YES network, which is owned by 21st Century Fox.

“They’re all going to regional cable networks because of money,” said Brad Adgate, an independent media consultant. Adgate explained the teams get retransmission fees of $2-4 per month per viewer and then sell advertising on top of that. “It’s become a big cash windfall for these franchises,” he added.

Missing the New Generation of Cord-Cutters

It’s hard to tell whether the lack of local TV access will hurt the sport. Baseball is already in decline. Ratings for the final World Series game fell 30 percent from the previous year, Observer noted. In contrast, the NBA just reported its most-watched season in four years, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

Even last year’s World Series games were only available to subscribers who could authenticate their cable subscriptions, leaving cord-cutters out of the equation, Forbes pointed out. The average age of a MLB viewer is now 57, compared with 42 for the NBA. Since baseball has failed to catch on with younger generations, the future of America’s game is looking more and more like a niche sport such as soccer used to be—and less the sort of audience-attracting phenomena linear broadcast TV is so well known for.

“I always joke that the bigger the ball, the younger the viewer,” Adgate said. “Golf and baseball are small and older, while soccer and basketball are young and football is somewhere in the middle.”

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