How Will Fans in Blackout Areas Watch the Cubs? (Updated with 2017 Broadcast Partners)
If you’d like the updated 2017 list of broadcast partners for Cubs games, click here. If you’d like to read some old stuff about how and why the Cubs do what they do with the hodgepodge TV schedule, feel free to continue.
As you’re already aware by now, the Cubs have reached a deal with WGN to continue their long-running broadcast partnership for another five years, carrying 45 games per season. Trouble is, that deal only applies to Channel 9, and not WGN America, which has opted to get out of the sports broadcasting business.
No, the Superstation, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to go with a notably different set of programming. Rather than continue to cater to mouth-breathing troglodytes like those of us who would tune into watch the Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and, yes, even the White Sox, good ol’ WGN is going high-brow on us.
And it’s not just with shows like Manhattan and Salem either. With its newest effort, WGN-TV is seeking to throw its hat into the ring with heavyweights like AMC and HBO.
Wrestling With Death is a “A unique family docuseries, WGN America’s first unscripted series introduces you to the world of The Lathams; morticians by day who run The Wilson Funeral Home in Osceola, Arkansas and professional wrestlers by night who run The Mid-Southern Championship Wrestling League.”
Well, maybe they’re trying to keep the White Sox fans after all. Just kidding, guys, you know I love you. I must admit that the part of me still dominated by my medula oblongata has a desire to watch this, much the same way I’m morbidly drawn to the Deadspin post about the 200-car pileup in Michigan.
But enough about that. I can question the decision all I want, but nothing will change the fact that I find myself in a market that doesn’t pull a signal from WGN-9 but that is restricted, needlessly and ignorantly so, by MLB’s blackout restrictions. This extends to their MLB.TV service as well, so I reached out to inquire as to any potential changes in said service.
From my email to the MLB.com Executive Team:
As you may be aware, the changing landscape of the Cubs’ TV coverage means that many out-of-market fans will be left without the ability to view approximately 50 games in the 2015 season.
Longtime partner WGN will only be broadcasting 45 games locally and another local station, WCIU, has traditionally carried a few games as well. Given their nationwide audience, this is a big deal for many Cubs fans, specifically those in the no-man’s-land of the Midwest. Those fans in more far-flung areas can subscribe to MLB.TV and and watch their team, but many (myself included) are left in a lurch due to the blackout rules currently in place.
I understand the intent of the rules, though I’m sure you must know as well as I do that they’re not actually effective at increasing attendance. If anything, they actually impede the consumption of MLB’s product, given that those folks in the blackout zone can neither attend in person nor view via your subscription service. I am aware, however, that the FCC struck down the NFL’s blackout rules and I wanted to see whether the same is true for MLB and your .tv service.
Furthermore, I would like to encourage you to offer configurable single-team or a la carte options for those viewers who might not want to buy the full package. For instance, maybe there’s a way for me to purchase a Cubs-only plan. Or perhaps you could organize a non-national plan that would allow someone to subscribe at a discounted rate for those games that will only be carried on local television.
Thank you for sending your email.
Unfortunately, we have no information about cable or network blackouts of Major League Baseball games. We sincerely apologize for the confusion, as we are only able to answer questions regarding the blackout restrictions for our MLB.TVproduct.
Please keep in mind that the broadcast rights are applicable whether or not a specific game is being shown, and must be protected even if the rights holders choose not to broadcast the games.
For more information on MLB.TV blackouts, you may visit our video page at http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/video/mlb_tv.jsp.
Thank you again for taking the time to write.
Customer Response Team
Okay, so that’s, well…not helpful at all. There was, however, a distinct silver lining to this cloud in the form of the embedded link, which actually led to a “404 Error” page. But I’ll give it to MLB.com, they’ve done a great job dressing it up. You can click it if you like, but you might find it easier to just scroll down to the end of the post (after you’ve read the rest of it, of course).
But just to prime your imagination’s pump, it’s a gif of Tommy Lasorda assaulting the Phillie Phanatic with what appears to be his own effigy doll. How have I not seen this before? Still, despite the hilarity, I was without answer to my question and sent a quick reply to indicate such.
MLB’s next response contained a working link that included the following information:
- If you are an MLB.TV subscriber within an area subject to a regular season blackout, the applicable game will be available as an archived game approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the game.
So all I have to do is wait until 11:30pm or so to watch a 3-hour game that I already know the result of? Sweet, I’m in! In all seriousness though, if you are not necessarily interested in watching every other MLB team, catching Pat and Ron on WBBM 780AM (feels really weird to think/say/type that).
Given the changing nature of broadcasting, it seems like a no-brainer for MLB to amend their archaic and ineffective blackout restrictions. Just in case you weren’t aware, the reasoning behind blackouts is to entice fans to buy tickets so that they won’t miss their favorite team’s games.
But in the case of MLB.tv, “Home television territory blackout restrictions apply regardless of whether a Club is home or away and regardless of whether or not a game is televised in a Club’s home television territory.”
Love it, that’s awsome, MLB. Makes total sense that fan in, say, Bloomington, IN who lives 4 1/2 hours away would drive to each of the 225 games that will be carried on WGN over the next handful of years. Or that someone from Des Moines, IA would hop a quick flight to Denver to see their team play the Rockies on a Wednesday evening.
I guess it could be worse though. Just look at the map below detailing the various blackout regions for the various MLB franchises. For instance, both Mariners fans in Montana are totally boned when it comes to watching their team online (as if dial-up service is capable of handling the stream anyway).
Enough beating around the bush, just answer the titular question, you idiot. How will fans in blackout areas watch the Cubs? In short, they won’t. Okay, how can they watch the team in 2015? The only sure way is to move to the Chicagoland area. Or find some kind of program that can mask or mirror an IP address from outside the blackout region (not that I’m endorsing such a strategy).
And if reading all of this just to have me give you a snarky, smart-ass answer has gotten your dander up, you can feel free to channel that righteous indignance in a constructive manner by hammering MLB.com with requests to change their rules.
I’ve seen many comments over the past couple of years from people who would consider subscribing to MLB.TV but who find either the blackouts or the cost to be prohibitive. I have to believe that a tailored solution like the one above would be a nice little win-win for both MLB and the legions of viewers impacted by the Cubs’ reduced national broadcast footprint.
As Ryan Davis noted in an earlier post on this same topic, it’s possible that various local stations throughout the blackout area could pick up the missing broadcasts on a syndicated basis. It’s certainly an interesting notion, but one that is most likely to impact those only just outside WGN’s immediate reach.
How about the rest of you who will be impacted by this predicament? Will you just stream the radio broadcasts online with MLB.com’s Gameday Audio (this has been my go-to for the past few years; no blackouts) or will you try to skirt the rules somehow? Will you turn your back on the team or will you simply make more trips to the ballpark?
It’s a pretty frustrating quandary at this point, and one that I’m not sure will resolve itself in the favor of those of us who have little option but to grin and baby bear it. In the meantime, I guess I can take 1180 off of my U-verse favorites and turn my radio preset six notches to the right.
And if I’ve left you feeling down about your inability to watch the Cubs this summer, just spend a few moments watching Lasorda accost this poor mascot.
***UPDATE: The Cubs have announced a full list of local affiliate TV stations that will be carrying most or all of the games that are being broadcast on WGN-9 and ABC-7. Click previous link to see when and where you can find the games in your area.***