Mike Bates is a Twins fan living in Iowa. Not only that, but he’s an Editor and Contributor to SBNation’s MLB Daily Dish — meaning baseball is not just a pastime but part of his livelihood. I’ve never met Bates in person, but he seems like a reasonable man (and a funny person on Twitter).
Some things will send a reasonable man into a blind rage, however, and Major League Baseball’s television blackout policy is that tipping point for Bates.
And nobody should blame him. Sure, nobody is forcing him to live in Cedar Rapids (imagine if they were?). But as a baseball fan living in Cedar Rapids, which is more than 240 miles away from any major league city, a fan might reasonably expect to be able to watch the full menu of games available through the MLB.TV package. After all, there are blackout restrictions on home viewing areas … but Cedar Rapids does not have a single home viewing area.
Ah, technically that last sentence is correct. Cedar Rapids doesn’t have a single team in its home viewing area. It has six, according to MLB: the Twins, Brewers, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals and Royals.
That means Bates can’t watch games involving six different teams. On any given night, when those teams aren’t playing each other, he will be shut out of 6 of 15 games (40 percent). For the year, he’s kept a running tally: Overall, 183/573 (31.94 percent) of available games have been blacked out in Cedar Rapids — and pretty much all of Iowa for that matter — this season. As a map from C.J. Sinner shows, none of the blacked out teams are close to Cedar Rapids (though they do make a menacing perimeter around the city).
“If you’re a satellite subscriber you can purchase the regional sports packages for an extra $13 a month on top of your monthly subscriptions,” Bates said. “Like an increasing number of Americans, however, I decided that cable and satellite were too expensive and full of channels I didn’t either want or have time to watch, so I stopped using it. Instead, I pay for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and MLB.TV.”
Sounds logical and magical. Instead, it has become pretty awful for Bates, who moved to Cedar Rapids in October of 2014.
“I will say that I have managed to find ways around the blackout restriction … so I can actually watch the Twins when I’m at home. However, I can’t use that system at work and I can’t use it to watch Twins games on my TV or through my game console,” Bates said. “Also, there are thousands of other potential users of the service who would not know how to troubleshoot their way around this issue. Finally, the principle behind the blackout policy is pretty awful. I pay the same price as everyone else in the country for what amounts to two-thirds of the service because MLB wants to force me to get cable to watch my favorite team.”
Indeed. People in Minnesota with MLB.TV complain about the Twins blackout restriction, but they’re the only team blacked out here. Imagine if you couldn’t watch one-third of the games while living in a place nowhere near a major league ballpark? Or even if you were indirectly impacted — as Forbes notes, Cleveland plays the six teams blacked out in Iowa 57 times. So if you’re a Cleveland fan living in Iowa, you’re missing more than 1/3 of the games you want to watch, too.
And Iowa isn’t alone. MLB has a handy (if something with annoying results can be handy) spot where you can type in your zip code to see which teams are blacked out. Sure enough, a Cedar Rapids zip code pulls up those six teams … and a Las Vegas zip code pulls up six other blacked out teams in that city: the A’s, Giants, Dodgers, Angels, Padres and Diamondbacks.
While the courts have started to look into MLB’s blackout rules, teams rake in so much money off lucrative regional sports network deals that it’s hard to imagine things changing anytime soon.
Until then, Bates will keep tracking the blacked out games. He has plenty of free time since he can’t watch them.
“I’m a profoundly selfish person, and so I’ve only been tracking it since it started mattering to me,” he said. “By the time the season ends, I figure we will be somewhere between 33 and 35 percent.”