Why Won’t TV Sports Blackouts Just Die Already?

I live in Greensboro, North Carolina which is located approximately 330 miles from Baltimore Maryland, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m so far away from Baltimore in fact that I don’t even receive their local television or radio broadcasts. I don’t know the local sportscasters, the best places to eat or even how to get to Camden Yards. Yet, whenever my beloved Red Sox (or any other team for that matter) plays the Orioles, Major League Baseball blacks out the broadcast for me here in Greensboro. Greensboro. North Carolina.

Since they were first televised in the late 60’s and 70’s, sports such as baseball and football have been subject to broadcast blackout restrictions. Originally designed to get people up off the couch, sell tickets and into the home team’s stadiums, blackouts were designed to help ensure a healthy bottom line for both league owners and those with a stake in local television markets. Stadiums cost millions of dollars to build and back in the day blackouts made sense, but not any longer. In today’s age of interconnectivity, smart phones, place-shifted broadcasts and on-demand programming, fans are fed up with the NFL & MLB’s blackouts.

Making matters worse, each league as their own set of rules and restrictions for how blackouts are applied. The NFL’s “75 mile” rule is fairly straight forward. If all tickets of a home game are not sold out, the broadcast is blacked out for a radius of 75 miles from the stadium. Seems reasonable, but given how few games are actually played in a regulation season of football, having even one or two games blacked out is upsetting to die hard fans. In comparison, Major League Baseball’s blackouts are a veritable rat’s nest of regulations that are so convoluted, even team owners don’t understand them. In Las Vegas for example, no less than 6 baseball teams (Dodgers, A’s, Giants, Padres, Angels, and Diamondbacks) are regularly blacked out from television viewing. Sometimes these blackouts aren’t announced until just minutes before the game. If I loved baseball and lived in Las Vegas, I’d probably have a major heart attack about once a week. Thankfully, hope seems to be on the horizon.

Back in February, the Sports Fans Coalition assembled a petition to the Federal Communication Commission outlining fan’s anger at the NFL’s blackout restrictions. Five Democratic Senators joined the petition and urged the FCC to eliminate the rule arguing that taxpayers have helped pay for stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out. They also added it was “a regulatory backstop to an obnoxious and outdated league policy … At a time of persistently high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and consumer uncertainty, the sports blackout rule supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior by professional sports leagues.” Well said.

This perspective is especially true today since the bulk of sports revenue now comes not from tickets, but from internet and television. Given this reality, it’s difficult to justify withholding broadcasts from fans willing to pay for it. The petition is now a matter of record and a final decision regarding NFL blackouts is expected soon. One hopeful byproduct of the petition is that the F.C.C. may require Major League Baseball to finally document and explain it’s own complex rules for applying blackout restrictions, something fans and owners have asked for repeatedly. Forcing MLB just to explain the rules may push blackouts over the tipping point and finally put an end to them.

In an age when we can watch our favorite movies and television shows whenever we want, wherever we want (mostly), sports blackouts are a slap in the face of the consumer. Fans have put up with these Orwellian restrictions for years but the increasing popularity of smart phones and tablet computers like the iPad have begun to put enormous pressure on leagues, team owners and even government. Social networking and digital connectivity have made this country, indeed this planet, a very small place where all forms of information can be accessed from anywhere. If the petition filed in February simply forces MLB to explain why I can watch the Red Sox kick the tar out of the Yankees but not the Orioles, I’ll be happy. Personally, I’m hoping the F.C.C. takes the TV blackout rule out back for a trip to the proverbial woodshed. One can dream.

Update: In yet another blow to baseball loving fans everywhere, the U.S. 4th District Court of appeals upheld a ruling preventing Time Warner Cable from offering the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its sister station, MASN2, from being added to its cable package in North Carolina. The reasoning the government decided to hang fans out to dry? The Orioles and Nationals have been “so bad” in recent years that no one would want to watch their games anyway. Yeah, never mind that occasionally those teams play OTHER teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, or that as I write this the Orioles are sitting in first place in the AL East. MLB Needs a serious kick in the ass.


  1. I am willing to pay to see the Texas Rangers play on Friday night but cannot due to its being broadcast by a local (Dallas) TV station.

    I cannot discern any entity that benefits by preventing me from viewing those games. (I live in Oklahoma – a four-hour drive from Ranger Stadium.) Every avenue of approach is blocked by MLB, and I cannot even identify a radio station from which I can listen to the game.

  2. It doesn’t look good for MLB Advanced Media finally throwing off the shackles of local blackouts. The Dodgers sale, for two billion bucks, is predicated on a twenty year long, four billion dollar TV deal. If they’re signing twenty year TV deals, I really despair for the likelihood that local markets will be able to stream video on devices.

    That all said, this whole business of you not getting the Orioles locally but being blacked out? MADNESS. Maybe that one can be resolved.

  3. I’m in an inverse boat with the NBA. The cable channel that carries the Knicks, MSG, is in a multiyear dispute with my TV provider (DISH); as a result, I don’t get MSG at home. Fine, says I, let me subscribe to your fine broadband NBA League Pass product and get my games over the Interwebs.

    Oh, not so fast — because my house is in New York City, I am not allowed to watch Knicks games at home due to the broadband blackout. This despite the fact that I CANNOT watch the games on my own TV because of corporate infighting and greed. And I have paid (am paying!) the NBA directly for the chance to watch! ARRRRGGHH.

    Fortunately for my composure, there is such a thing as a VPN.

  4. Man, that is just crazy Mike. I’m sure glad I don’t watch basketball or football. Baseball’s blackout restrictions are bad enough as it is!

  5. 3rd year in a row not being able to watch the dodgers, GRRRRRR!!!!!!! constant blackouts, last minute channel changes……. MY GOD! I’m going mad! The network tells me the commissioner and the team is to blame, the commissioner tells me the network is to blame, and the team office tells me the network and commisioner are to blame. I can’t watch the dodgers, and nobody knows what the hell is going on!!!!!!!!!!! Time to file a federal suit against the Dodgers, MLB, FCC, and the network to get some answers.

  6. How about me, someone from the DC area, who has lived in Greensboro for 20 years entrenched in a huge number of Braves fans, and I am the only Orioles fan I know in the area! I can’t watch the Orioles on MLB.tv, even if I cough up big bucks for an entire season of games that I do not want to watch. Meanwhile, Braves fans watch every game for a team only 5 hours away. When I tell them that the Orioles are actually the area “home team” they laugh at me as if I am dreaming. MLB are the idiots because if they actually allowed the O’s and Nat’s to be seen in NC it could generate some interest in those teams. As it is now, MLB discourages any interest in those teams by making it impossible for someone in NC to see a televised game.

  7. I am so fed up with these blackouts on Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in CA. I now have Dishnet and many of games blacked out but icon not saying it is blacked out until the game starts and then the screen tells the customer it’s not on. I have not been able to find a blackout schedule anywhere on internet.
    I just talked to a guy in Orange, CA and he has had no blackouts with
    Time Warner, so I will check with that company tomorrow. ANY SUGGESTIONS?

  8. I am posting this in the middle of another blacked out Dodgers game. It’s really a pain to pay a few hundred for xtra innings and get ripped off yet again. So I bought a Google tv and stream games. A quick search will show several sites that stream games. Take that, FCC!

  9. I am so pissed! I happened to be in Santa Barbara wanting to watch the dodgers who are playing themes in NEW YORK,!!!!!, $&&!! And they are blacked out on my MLb iPad this is f$&@ stupid. I can not take it anymore
    1. This will be my last year giving my 25$ a month to MLB
    2. What if I were handicapped and only had a iPad I’m stil going to punished? That seems a great way to to gain new fans and make older fans happy!
    3. Can we all on this site put a word out to start our own petition!

  10. It is ridiculous. My problem is that the wife and I are internet tv watchers. We refuse (as do many more these days) to pay $75+/mo for cable when we have narrow tv interests. We would rather buy a solid internet connection and pay for services a la carte like Netflix et al (which we do). Because I don’t buy cable, I cannot watch my beloved braves. I bought MLB.tv earlier this year when I lived in OKC – no problem. I recently moved to Alabama and am now in the Braves home market – and have to watch illegal streams with inferior quality even though I am clearly willingly to spend money on baseball – but ONLY baseball. I don’t want to spend money on all the crap cable tv stations submit as entertainment. I knew the rules when I bought the product but it is still maddening as MLB seems to be turning a deaf ear to our calls to allow us to actually purchase the products we want. I will never spend another dime on baseball until this archaic policy is no more.

  11. Finally, validation. Living in Santa Fe, NM, I became a rabid D-Backs fan a few years back, catching the great off-beat broadcast team (now, sadly, disgraced and gone)–even to the extent of spending lots of bucks a few times a year to fly over to Phoenix, catch a game, shop, eat, stay over. Now all games are blacked out in NM. The cable and dish companies tell me it’s the team’s decision. The team tells me it’s the cable and dish companies’ decision. The broadcast network and MLB don’t answer at all. And for two years now I’ve been asking, “Who on earth benefits from this?” You just answered me: No one. The team, the venue, the broadcaster, the Phoenix and airline economies, the cable and dish companies–all are losing my interest and custom. I’ve lost my beloved nightly ritual. And no, MLB, I won’t be watching every other team except the one in which it makes sense for me to be interested–that which is a mere six hours away. The Yanks will have to live without another fan.

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