MLB’s streaming deals stick it to RSNs, but fans hurt even more

The deals’ exclusivity means teams’ local rights holders won’t carry the games picked up by Apple and Peacock, just as they can’t when Fox and ESPN take games.

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It’s clear that MLB doesn’t have a great relationship with the players’ union. Now I’m starting to wonder about its relationship with regional sports networks.

While MLB kept the players locked out, it negotiated exclusive rights agreements to stream games on Apple TV+ and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, in hopes of reaching cord-cutters and younger viewers. That exclusivity means teams’ local rights holders won’t carry the games picked up by Apple and Peacock, just as they can’t when Fox and ESPN take games.

That means fewer games for the RSNs, which can’t be happy about losing programming that’s the lifeblood of their existence. This won’t affect every RSN equally. Apple and Peacock figure to take more games of the biggest-drawing teams, which probably include the Cubs and White Sox.

The Cubs catch a break because Apple’s deal is for Friday nights, when the streamer will show doubleheaders. Marquee Sports Network won’t have to worry about all those Friday afternoon games at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs’ road games that night are up for grabs. Same with every Friday night Sox game that normally belongs to NBC Sports Chicago.

Peacock’s package is a first for MLB. The streamer will show games Sunday morning, with a first pitch as early as 10:30 a.m. to limit overlap with typical 1 p.m. games. The game sites largely will be on the East Coast because of the early start. Most Cubs and Sox Sunday afternoon games also are up for grabs.

How many games are we talking about? Apple will take about 50 games a season. With four teams each Friday night, Apple will have roughly 100 picks. We can assume that every team will appear at least once, but that still leaves 70 spots. Peacock’s deal is for 18 games.

However, RSNs’ contracts with teams guarantee them a minimum number of games, providing them some protection. If a team can’t deliver, it owes the RSN a rebate. Though that scenario is unlikely to unfold, an RSN could come closer to that minimum than before.

In taking away inventory from RSNs, MLB is stuffing its own pockets. According to Forbes, Apple’s contract is for $85 million annually over seven years, and NBC’s is for $30 million annually over two years. It’s a straight-up money grab by MLB, but RSNs aren’t the only ones hurt.

Of course, in this age of programming fragmentation, the fans take another one on the chin.

For example, on Jan. 1, Comcast increased its monthly regional sports fee in the Chicago market 20%, from $14.45 to $17.30 (it was $6.20 in 2019 before Marquee launched). Now customers are likely to lose several games on Marquee and NBCSCH. However, because Comcast customers receive Peacock as part of their plan, they’ll have access to Cubs and Sox games on that streamer.

Apple is another matter. If fans want to watch those games, they’ll need to cough up $4.99 a month to subscribe. And if you’re not a Comcast customer, Peacock also costs $4.99 a month. So if you’re a cable or satellite subscriber and you don’t want to miss any games, budget another $10 a month.

As if that’s not enough, the Apple and Peacock games also won’t appear on MLB’s streaming service, MLB.TV. MLB is reducing its own product to make more money. Out-of-market Cubs and Sox fans will need THREE streaming services to watch every game.

There was a time not long ago when cable gave sports fans everything they needed. Now, MLB has joined the NFL and NHL in taking games off cable for financial gain. The NBA figures to join them when its TV deal with ESPN and Turner ends after the 2024-25 season. It’s the way sports media is trending.

Usually fans don’t realize they’ve lost something until it’s gone. So take heed: When the Cubs’ and Sox’ broadcast schedules are released, plan alternate viewing options.

Or go old-school: Turn on the radio.

Remote patrol

  • ABC will carry the Blackhawks’ game Saturday against the Golden Knights at 2 p.m. Sean McDonough will call it with analyst Ray Ferraro and reporter Emily Kaplan. Steve Levy will host in the studio with Mark Messier and former Hawk Chris Chelios. ESPN+ will air an “IceCast” presentation, which shows the game from cameras high above the nets. But based on the last one, stick with the regular broadcast.
  • NBC Sports Chicago will air three more “BetCasts” opposite Bulls games on its Plus channel: Tuesday against the Wizards, April 6 against the Celtics and April 8 against the Hornets. The broadcasts will deliver live odds data on-screen from PointsBet, along with futures and player props. David Kaplan will host, and Bulls studio analysts Kendall Gill and Will Perdue will alternate appearances.
  • “WGN Morning News” sports anchor Pat Tomasulo will release his debut comedy special, the hour-long “What A Time To Be Alive,” Wednesday on YouTube. It’s LOL stuff.

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