My disdain for MLB.tv has been well documented over the past couple years, particularly in light of its failure to serve the growing market of cord-cutters across the country. That goes double for Cubs fans, many of whom live under the shroud of an archaic blackout map that leaves them in a doughnut hole when it comes to local and national coverage.
Even though it’s a streaming service, MLB.tv is still subject to the same regional blackouts as broadcast television. As such, fans who live inside the region considered local for a given team — and who aren’t using an IP masking service or a jail-broken Fire Stick or other device — are only able to watch teams other than their own via the subscription service. Even when the Cubs are playing away from Chicago, their status as a “local” team renders them unwatchable.
Enter the “Follow Your Team” feature, an addition to the MLB.tv Premium package that would supposedly ensure subscribers the ability watch the team of their choice for a nominal additional fee. At least one baseball/business analyst incorrectly stated that a subscriber need only authenticate with any one of the dozens of regional sports networks in order to access FYT broadcasts of their team on a different RSN.
In the end, the only people served by the add-on to the base MLB.tv package were those fans of a non-market team living in another team’s market. Under the old setup, a Cubs fan living in Miami would have been blacked out when the Cubs came to town to play the Marlins. With FYT, that fan would be able to watch all three of those games for $10 more. Awesome.
For the sake of context, I should mention that these changes were all made as part of a class-action lawsuit against the subscription service for generally being crappy when it came to offering fans a reprieve from blackouts. Rather than increase access for those fans who were most impacted, however, they simply lowered the price and added the window dressing of FYT (which I’ve been saying from the start was not a fix).
One would think standards might have relaxed in that past year, given the increasing trend toward a la carte television offerings and decreased reliance on traditional carriers. There’s also the matter of this very public push to appeal to a younger crowd. Yeah, no. Follow Your Team is back, but it might actually be worse than before.
Let’s check the fine print:
Eligible MLB.TV Premium Yearly subscribers who also subscribe to a participating local regional sports network (RSN) can add Follow Your Team to their subscription for the regular season for only $10. Through Follow Your Team, you can watch one select out-of-market team’s local broadcast on your computer even when they are playing an in-market team, so long as that game is also broadcast on a local RSN that you can access through your subscription to a participating Pay TV service.
So that fan in Miami not only needs to have MLB.tv with the FYT feature, he/she also must have television service that includes a local RSN that is carrying the game. This not only limits the potential target market for the product, but is essentially a premium being levied for the express purpose of watching your favorite team’s broadcast rather than that of the home team.
Don’t get me wrong, Len and JD are great, but it’s a little weird to pay $10 just to get them for a couple games. Oh, and it gets even worse in the finer print:
Offer available only to authenticated subscribers of the participating Pay TV providers and RSNs listed below. Subscribers to Follow Your Team can choose only one out-of-market team to follow per year and access to the chosen team’s local broadcast feed will be available only within the home television territory of a subscriber’s in-market team(s).
Seriously? Now, on top of requiring subscriptions to both MLB.tv Premium (with FYT added) and your local RSN, you’ve got to be within the boundaries of said RSN’s territory. So those three people in Miami in the overlapping sections of that Venn diagram are hosed when they go to Disney World. Or anywhere, for that matter.
And now we turn to the finest print for the kicker:
NOTE: Games available through Follow Your Team will be available for online viewing only (not available on mobile or connected devices [emphasis mine]). Follow Your Team will not allow you to follow an in-market team or watch local in-market or national broadcasts.
What in the actual eff? Even if you’re willing and able to clear those first few hurdles, this last one is a real doozy. This makes less sense than a Wookiee living on Endor, since virtually the whole point of MLB.tv is to be able to watch wherever I want to.
If I have to subscribe to the RSN, it means I’ve got at least one television at home. Then I’ve got to be physically in the territory of said RSN and can’t watch on my mobile device, which means I’m probably stationary. And when you take into consideration the restrictions on streaming many workplaces enforce, it means I’m probably watching at home. Where I have a TV. That has access to the game.
MLB.tv’s Follow Your Team add-on allows people who already have access to a local broadcast of their favorite out-of-market team playing their in-market team to pay $10 for the privilege of watching that same game on their computer. It’s not quite a Nigerian prince or a random friend you’ve not spoken to in years reaching out for help after being mugged in Europe, but this feels kinda scammy. Ain’t technology grand.
But who cares about actually letting fans, particularly those in the younger generation MLB so desperately covets, access the game in a way that suits them, let’s worry about pace of play and making extra innings more exciting. Makes total sense.