An important announcement on plans for Da Blog and my life going forward

Except for around Christmas (including the annual blog-day post), this is the last post I will make on Da Blog from the Seattle area for the foreseeable future.

In my last blog-day post, I mentioned the possibility that my work on Da Blog would be “directly supported and nurtured”; now I can say a bit more about what that was referring to. Over the Labor Day weekend, I will be moving down to live with my dad in Los Angeles. We’ve been talking for several years about this; the plan is for Dad to support me and allow me to work on Da Blog without being distracted by school, a job, the people I live with, or the school I’ve lived across the street from for the past three years, with Dad as my “boss” to keep me focused and try to actually get an audience going and increase exposure to my writings. (While this is going on, the “Da Blog in LA” category will only be used for LA-specific posts I couldn’t have made if I weren’t there, which is to say it probably won’t be used at all.) At one point we talked about us living together for about two years; I don’t know if that’s still the plan, but I have the site’s hosting locked down through June of 2016, and if we still don’t have anything going by then – if we’re at the same place we’ve always been throughout what will then be nine and a half years of Da Blog – it may be time to give up on actually making anything of Da Blog.

Some things have been settled already, but most of the details will be fleshed out on the drive down. I may have another post after the weekend is over detailing any substantial changes coming to Da Blog in the near term as a direct result of this move.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the lineal titles in preparation for football season. It seems I never actually updated the lineal titles before last year, despite what I said in last year’s post. Both of last year’s new college football lineal titles got merged with others; the BCS title was merged with 2006 Boise State pretty quickly, while Ohio State’s claim was merged with 2009 Boise State at the Rose Bowl. This year starts with three lineal titles; Alabama went undefeated until the Miracle at Jordan-Hare and Auburn went on to the BCS Title Game, so 2006 Boise State starts the year with national champion Florida State. You can see what happened to the NFL lineal title on the history page accessible from the category page.

MLB is fixing its blackout policy!!! (not really)

Everyone loves to hate MLB’s “outdated” blackout policies. Of course the NBA and NHL have similar policies and presumably don’t allow you to watch in-market teams online, and they don’t come in for nearly as much hatred, so perhaps the hate towards MLB’s blackout policies is more part of a larger rush to rag on MLB rather than cause of what’s ailing it. Or perhaps it’s because NBA and NHL teams’ blackout areas don’t reach out to a ridiculous extent with no regard to the actual availability of the teams, with the result that areas further away from any MLB teams end up blacked out of more teams than they were if they were closer, with the end result that if you live in Charlotte, the fifth-largest market without an MLB team, you’re blacked out of the Nationals, Orioles, Braves, and Reds, with some markets blacked out of even more teams!

But fret not, because MLB Advanced Media may be about to fix those notorious blackout rules – with a catch:

In an interview this week, Bob Bowman said he is optimistic that a deal could be reached soon with various cable operators, channels and ballclubs. The catch is that even with an MLB.TV subscription, which starts at $20 a month, fans will also need a cable or satellite TV subscription to view hometown teams at home.

That doesn’t seem like it would actually fix any of the problems people have with the blackout rules. People who don’t have a cable subscription still won’t be able to watch any of their local teams’ games; okay, fine, baseball doesn’t want to fix that problem because they’re raking in too much money from RSNs, and baseball games on RSNs are the biggest obstacle to cord-cutting at the moment because of the tremendous popularity of local baseball teams. But presumably, in order to authenticate your cable or satellite subscription you’d need to actually get the RSN your team is carried on, and if you get the RSN your team is carried on you wouldn’t need or MLB Extra Innings to watch it in the first place!

It seems like this change is oriented more at solving another, very real but mostly unrelated, problem: how slow RSNs have been at embracing streaming. The Yankees shut down their ridiculously-expensive streaming service after five underwhelming seasons this year, leaving no US teams with any in-market streaming capabilities. The main issue appears to be that RSNs want to offer streaming at no additional cost while teams want to be reimbursed on top of what they’re already being paid to be on the RSN to begin with, at a time when virtually every national rights deal includes streaming rights, and the distinction between carriage on linear television and streaming services is an artifact of times past. MLBAM’s solution appears to be using the existing infrastructure to create in-market streaming for all teams through brute force, with an eye towards seeing how much extra revenue they can collect that way while still forcing customers to authenticate (though don’t expect it to be very successful when you’re charging more than what YES was charging – $20 a month v. $69.95 a year). If that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but don’t bill it as “fixing the blackout rules” when it’s not.

When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

What is the most popular programming on television this summer? What network is most attracting viewers’ attention with all the choices out there?

Is it NBC on the back of its hit reality show America’s Got Talent?

Is it CBS and its collection of shows popular with all ages, from Big Brother to 60 Minutes?

Is it ABC with shows like The Bachelorette? Or Fox with MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen?

Perhaps it’s something on cable? Might it be TNT on the back of Major Crimes and Rizzoli and Isles?

Perhaps it’s USA on the back of the insanely popular WWE Raw?

Perhaps it’s seasonal and occasional programming like Shark Week on Discovery or Sharknado 2 on SyFy?

Perhaps it’s whatever ESPN puts on, since sports seems to be the big thing these days?

The correct answer is none of the above.

For 12 of the 24 markets where at least one relevant RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes, the correct answer is the local baseball team on the local RSN, according to Maury Brown’s analysis on

Several more teams place in the top three, and every single one of the 27 US teams whose RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes ranks in the top nine shows in primetime in their respective markets – regardless of how they’re doing in the standings.

All told, local baseball team games add up to an average 1.99 household rating – and that doesn’t include the viewership the Dodgers and Astros would be getting if they weren’t mired in carriage disputes, or the viewership teams get from outlying markets.

For the record, the 10th-most watched show on cable TV for the week of August 4-10 only managed a 2.2 rating – and at least two shows in the top ten didn’t air in primetime.

Forget about ESPN; it may well be RSNs and the local sports they provide that keep people tied to their cable connection more than anything else.

Out of all national baseball broadcasts in 2013, only four or five of the six World Series games drew a higher rating than Detroit Tigers regular-season games averaged through the 2014 All-Star Break. Only the remaining World Series games beat the regular-season average of the Cardinals and Pirates – and one of those teams was in that World Series. And the World Series was on broadcast, while all those local games were on cable.

Perhaps most tellingly, no sports event on cable that wasn’t a BCS or NFL game drew a better rating in 2013 than the Tigers, Cardinals, and Pirates 2014 regular-season averages.

For all that I complain about the BCS (and now the CFP) and the Final Four moving to cable, perhaps it is the absence of local Major League Baseball games on broadcast television that is the real crime. Of the many reasons why I hate the existence of “MyNetworkTV”, perhaps one of the bigger ones is that it should not have been necessary to provide programming to fill the hole on stations left behind by the CW merger. Local sports, especially baseball in summer, could have more than sufficed – if those stations were willing and able to acquire it.

By the way, MyNetworkTV was founded in 2006, two years before the BCS deal that first opened my eyes to cable’s unfair advantages over broadcast and made me worried about the march of sports events to cable.

Which brings me back to the question in the title of this post: When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

Was it the advent of the dual-revenue stream pioneered by ESPN? Was it when UPN and the WB were founded, giving formerly independent stations programming commitments that made it harder for them to air local sports? Was it when – implicitly voluntarily – broadcast stations “stopped bidding for sports rights“, surrendering them, the massive ratings they entailed, and what would turn out to be a big chunk of the reason for the existence of all of linear television, to RSNs that would in turn keep people tied to their cable connection? Was it when the CW merger happened and the stations left behind formed and/or joined MyNetworkTV rather than face an uncertain future – one that could have made them far more relevant than any alternative?

Whenever it happened, one thing is clear: the disappearance of local baseball from broadcast television is one of the great underrated stories of the rise of cable, and one of the great missed opportunities of the past few decades for broadcast – and still represents perhaps broadcast television’s greatest opportunity for relevance going forward. I still think the stations exist to support a true fifth broadcast network – in large part due to stations that held steadfastly to their independence rather than join the Fox network when it launched. But given this, I’m no longer sure how many of them would want to.

What can baseball do to save itself?

That was Keith Olbermann’s intro to last night’s show, where he used the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the 1994 baseball strike to opine on the existential threat facing baseball today – kids not getting interested in the sport and declining national TV ratings. To that I would add weak ratings, even considering the sport’s weak general ratings, among people slightly older than kids – the 18-49 demographics advertisers love. He attributes the decline of national TV ratings to the adoption of interleague play removing the novelty factor of being able to see teams you’d otherwise only be able to see if your team made the World Series, requiring baseball to find “a new reason” to watch nationally televised games even when your team isn’t playing in them, thus keeping up the value of the national TV contract and in turn keeping smaller market teams in business. What should that new reason be, and how can baseball create it?

I’m going to assume that the problem is not that baseball is an inherently boring sport, something people have been saying for decades, even though even baseball’s fans sometimes wax poetic about the sport being “passed down from father to son”, which is another way of saying the only reason anyone would be a baseball fan is because their parents brainwashed them to be. I’m going to assume the sport can be saved when a lot of damage to its currency among younger people has already been done, which also requires leaving aside factors like steroids that might have poisoned the sport for a generation, and rendered its records, once a massive part of the mythology of the sport, untrustworthy forever. Even then, baseball has signed its new TV contract and as such there are some things it can’t change, like having TBS come out of nowhere for the postseason, and it can’t inoculate itself against cord-cutting when it’s just agreed to cut its presence on broadcast TV to a few weeks in the middle of summer and September in favor of a network that might be one of the first to go if cord-cutting results in catastrophe for linear cable TV. I’m also going to leave aside things involving the game itself like speeding up the pace of play or getting rid of Joe Buck.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that football and basketball have the equivalent of interleague play, and significantly stronger national TV ratings – in basketball’s case, in spite of the fact that it has games on every day on cable TV just as baseball does, even though that is often perceived as “oversaturating the product”. They do this because they are able to craft a national narrative larger than any individual team, one driven by stars that encourages people all over the country to pay attention. Everyone knows the Patriots are “Tom Brady’s team”, or the Broncos are “Peyton Manning’s team”, or the Saints are “Drew Brees’ team”, and they automatically know what it means when any two of those teams square off and are willing to tune in for same. Ditto for basketball where the Cavaliers are “LeBron James’ team”, the Lakers are “Kobe Bryant’s team”, or the Former Sonics are “Kevin Durant’s team”.

Baseball is a star-driven sport – certainly more so than hockey, where the stars are only on the ice one-fourth of the time and don’t really have any more impact on the outcome than the lesser lines – and should be able to take advantage of the same factors, crafting a national narrative out of its pennant races. But there also are a lot of things football and basketball has that it doesn’t:

  • Baseball has way more games in a regular season than football or basketball – nearly double the NBA’s number. Those games are divided up into series where two teams play each other day after day. When, say, the Clippers and Celtics face off, it’s an event among many similar events over the course of the season. When the Angels and Red Sox face off, they’ll face off once on MLB Network, then again on ESPN, then again on MLB Network – and if it’s on the weekend they’ll go MLB Network, then Fox or Fox Sports 1, and then ESPN. It sort of dilutes the knowledge that these two teams are facing off when you see them two to four straight days.
  • Baseball may be a star-driven sport, but not nearly to the extent of football or basketball where one good player can completely change the fortunes of a franchise. No position player has much more than a one-ninth impact on a team’s fortunes. In football and basketball, that makes it much easier for smaller markets to join the ranks of the marquee franchises. The Moneyball era has made things easier for small-market baseball teams, but the lack of a salary cap, coupled with the need to put together a complete team on a scale not necessary in football or basketball, makes it very difficult to keep the marquee teams from being a procession of the Yankees and Red Sox over and over.
  • In the case of pitchers, it’s too difficult to ensure that a pitcher is starting on the same day as one of your marquee national TV windows.
  • Football and basketball stars are usually pre-made in college. People don’t care as much about high school or college baseball, and even if a sensation does come along they generally have to toil away in the minor leagues for a while, which people care about even less unless they have a minor league team nearby or are really interested in how their major league team’s farm system is doing.

There certainly are some things baseball can do about some of these – a while back, Awful Announcing’s Steve Lepore pointed out that the seeming dichotomy between shoving the Yankees and Red Sox down people’s throats all the time, and trying to “spread around” the wealth to all 30 MLB teams, misses that what baseball fans really want is to be able to see the good teams, whether they’re the Mets and Yankees or Brewers and Royals, square off against one another on national television, and follow the pennant races that way, and to some degree MLB Network (but not ESPN, which keeps following the former approach, and Fox, which tried the latter approach this year) has done that. Many, however, are things MLB has little to no control over, and to the extent that it does it’s probably as unlikely to try them as to get rid of interleague play. Does baseball want to substantially shrink the regular season? Is it willing to take the plunge on a salary cap?

With that in mind, perhaps the best thing baseball can do to improve its long-term fortunes, specifically in small markets, is to find a way to get rid of the RSN loophole, which is a big reason so much of MLB’s revenue sharing does come from the national TV contract. What is the RSN loophole? Well, here are the ten most valuable franchises in the major leagues according to Forbes magazine:

  1. New York Yankees, $2.5 billion
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers, $2 billion
  3. Boston Red Sox, $1.5 billion
  4. Chicago Cubs, $1.2 billion
  5. San Francisco Giants, $1 billion
  6. Philadelphia Phillies, $975 million
  7. Texas Rangers, $825 million
  8. St. Louis Cardinals, $820 million
  9. New York Mets, $800 million
  10. Anaheim Angels, $775 million

What do these teams have in common? Nine out of ten of them own all or part of the regional sports network that airs their games. The tenth, the Cardinals, are valued at a third of the level of the top-ranked Yankees – mostly because their fanbase draws from such a wide area. Owning a stake in an RSN has become all the rage in recent years, because while the rights fees that teams get from their RSNs are subject to revenue sharing, the boost that a team gets from actually owning a piece of the RSN is not. That’s allowed the Yankees to remain on top of the baseball pyramid despite the revenue sharing schemes baseball has adopted in recent years, through their ownership of YES Network. It also allows teams to benefit with money not subject to revenue sharing when other teams set up shop on the same network. When the Nets do well, the Yankees do well. When the Bruins do well, the Red Sox do well. When the Bulls do well, the Cubs do well. When the Warriors do well, the Giants do well. When the Flyers or 76ers do well, the Phillies do well. When the Mavericks or Stars do well, the Rangers do well.

The next-most valuable teams that do not own a piece of an RSN are #11 Atlanta ($730 million), which also draws from a huge fanbase built over the team’s years on WTBS; #15 Detroit ($680 million), the most popular team on a per-capita basis in baseball, and both of those two teams are from two of baseball’s larger markets; #18 Toronto ($618 million), which draws from all of Canada; and finally, #19 Minnesota ($605 million) and #20 Cincinnati ($600 million), two teams in the bottom half of all major league teams with four teams valued at double their value, and that don’t even double up the poorest team in baseball, the $485 million Tampa Bay Rays. The NBA and NHL don’t have this problem, either because they try harder to reach for the RSN dollar or the existence of the salary cap reduces the incentive to own a stake. Here is the complete list of NBA and NHL teams to own a stake of their RSN: Bulls, Blackhawks, Rockets, Bruins, Celtics, Maple Leafs. The seven richest baseball teams all own stakes of RSNs, and the number of teams in other sports that own pieces of RSNs are six total.

What can baseball do about this? They could try and find a way to go after revenue obtained from owning RSN stakes and draw it into the revenue-sharing fold. They could institute a salary cap and blunt the incentive to cheat the revenue-sharing system. Or they could look at the ongoing carriage disputes plaguing CSN Houston and Sportsnet LA – not to mention how ugly the dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over MASN has gotten – and wonder if the lucrative RSN market is built on a house of cards, the scam that is the cable subscription fee model, that is starting to come tumbling down, and find a way to pre-empt them all and save even the richest MLB teams from themselves, while also putting themselves in better position than their competitors for the future of video content. Again, baseball has already signed its national TV contract and is stuck with its cable-heavy nature for the foreseeable future, and the NBA may yet go the other way, but there might still be quite a bit baseball could do on the local front.