Watching Baseball in 2023

The Internet lets you stream anything you want directly to your favorite screen, unless what you want is to watch a baseball game.

Written .

For The Love of the Game

When I was a kid, watching a baseball game was simple. If you can't make it to the ballpark, you turn on the TV to one of your local channels. Back then, WPIX had almost every New York Yankees game. I can still hear Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto's voice in my head to this day.

One day, things got a little more complicated. I wanted to watch the game, but my father said that it wasn't on. It was on some other network called MSG that we didn't get with basic cable. Two networks? That was manageable. Most games were still on channel 11. Life goes on.

That brings our story to , and this young Yankees fan was more excited than Don Mattingly to finally get a taste of postseason baseball. And what a year it was! Not only did "Donnie Baseball" and I discover what playoffs were, but there were more of them this year! On the other hand, I certainly needed help finding the right channel. This wasn't on MSG, nor PIX. I don't remember if it was on Fox or ESPN, but I'm glad that John Smoltz was too busy pitching to provide annoying commentary. Sadly, our season ended at the Kingdome, just like Mattingly's long career.

I don't need to tell anyone what happened in , or in 1998, 1999, and 2000. The games were on one of two channels, and if I was somehow away from my screen, the dulcet sounds of John Sterling and Michael Kay were never too far away during those magnificent years. Baseball was great, the plays were intense, and the steroids only made it all that more grandiose.

Wade Boggs riding on a policeman's horse after winning the World Series.

Wade Boggs and the horse he rode in on, moments after winning the 1996 World Series. (Credit: Gerald Herbert, New York Daily News)

still hurts, but imagine my surprise when, that next spring, the YES Network launched. Finally, almost every game was all in one place, and growing up in Connecticut, that was added to basic cable. Of course, 'PIX got a few games, but MSG was finally out of the picture. At long last, all 162 regular-season games were ready to watch.

Holy cow! indeed, Scooter.

I've never paid for cable TV. My college had it, but after I graduated, I didn't even bother. One apartment had a TV antenna that got a fuzzy WPIX signal, until the digital switchover killed that for good. I would watch here and there, but John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman were always a fixture whenever I had an open ear. I didn't pay much attention to the TV world. YES was there, and nothing bad was going to happen.

And then, they put on the shift.

Content, à la Carte

Here we are in 2023, and the subscription era is in full swing. Cable TV was insanely expensive, and I'm not alone in that sentiment. It wasn't long before Netflix rose to prominence, and the entertainment wars started fresh. However, unlike Betamax and HD-DVD, this was no physical media; these were bits pushed out over the Internet. There would be no losers, no service thrown to the wayside, and everyone's apps coexisting peacefully, side-by-side. Every service would get their few dollars a month, whether or not there were eyeballs watching.

Unfortunately, this model eventually spiraled down. The big players like Netflix and Hulu have seen growth slow down, and they're forced to invest in creating content instead of simply delivering it, in hopes that they'll stand out, and convince some people who are sick of being nickel-and-dimed to say goodbye to one of their competitors. Big-budget movies and sophomoric animated content are two ways to do it, but they're starting to wisen up, and looking for markets that have been underserved.

For us Yankees fans, YES still shows most of the games. My poor father will get to watch most of the season, but more and more broadcasts are simply disappearing for him. Amazon Prime will take some, Apple TV+ will exclusively air some, and now Peacock wants to strut around?

It's not that I can't keep track anymore. It's that they made me stop caring. Strike one.

Why? Each of these services will cost you five to ten dollars per month. If you want to watch all 162 games this season, you're looking at eight months' worth of streaming services. Quick and fuzzy math says it will be $240 for those three services—and, don't forget, this is on top of your regular cable bill! It's enough to make a trip to Yankee Stadium look cheap.

But let's say that you've got enough disposable income to blow on any streaming service you want. Now you face the task of trying to set it all up. In a Bloomberg article about this same topic, one baseball fan's son was tasked with setting up his father to watch all the games:

[My father] finds it all very confusing and bewildering, John, 36, said later in an interview. It makes me wonder what older fans are doing if they don't have younger children who know this stuff.

My father is in his late sixties, and he never cared to operate anything more complicated than a lamp. Needless to say, he missed out on a lot of games last year, because they were exclusive to an app he can't download, on a platform he doesn't use, for a sort of device that he wouldn't care to use if I set it up and left it next to his bed.

Millennials are currently the largest generation alive in the United States. While we're pushing forty, the average baseball fan is nearly sixty years old. We're the most technologically-savvy generation, and my father wouldn't own a cell phone if he didn't have to. (Don't get me started on landlines.) While I can't blame any capitalist for cajoling the lion's share of the market in hopes to hook the next generation of baseball fans, it seems like they're giving the middle finger to their aging base.

Older fans don't have the technical know-how. Middle-aged fans don't have the time. Younger fans don't have the money for all these apps and services. Who exactly is Major League Baseball catering to these days?

Swing and a miss for strike two.

Don't Hate the Players, Hate the Game

But that's fine, right? Let the free market suffer. You can go straight to the source and sign up for MLB.TV, right? Live baseball games on any device. Heck, T-Mobile hands it out for free almost every year. Whip out your phone, tablet, computer, my dad's smart TV (which I could probably pre-configure for him), and stream any game you want. Right?

Called strike three! The fans go down looking.

MLB.TV signup page with "out-of-market games" circled.

A screenshot of the MLB.TV sign-up page. Emphasis mine on out-of-market games.

Back in the 1970s, MLB, over-the-air regional sports networks, and the new national broadcast networks agreed on some arcane blackout rules, a policy that survived the rise and fall of cable TV and well into the Internet age. That means that you cannot watch your local team without an actual television network agreeing to give it to you.

That means you can't watch the Yankees (or Mets) in New York, Connecticut, northern New Jersey, or northeastern Pennsylvania. If you live in New England and want to root for the Boston Red Sox, tough. If you're a San Francisco Giants fan living in Guam, you're out of luck (for some reason). No one has it worse than Canadians, who can't watch their nation's only team, the Toronto Blue Jays, no matter which ocean they're nearer to—unless it's the Indian Ocean, in which case, I hope you have a good cell signal!

An Astros fan from Fort Worth, Texas summed it up best in a 2007 online posting:

As a business major, I find it fascinating that a business is actively refusing to get its product out.
MLB RSN blackout map for the continential United States (as of July 10, 2007)

The MLB regional blackout map for the continental United States. It's old, but replace "Florida" with "Miami" and it's still accurate.

(Credit: MLB_Blackout_Areas.svg by Braindrain0000, CC BY-SA 3.0. Modified to look better in dark mode.)

This is the part of the article where I'd give you some hope. Frequent arbiter of silly decisions and current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has hinted that the blackout era may come to an end... soon? Until then, fans won't be able to root, root, root for the home team; since they can't watch, it's a shame.

As for me, when the radio just won't do, I'm going back to the easiest and most reliable way to watch the games short of going to the ballpark or putting up a TV antenna. I'll be using a method that has crystal-clear video, great audio, and my choice of the home or away feeds. It's a method that removes most advertising, all commercials, and gives MLB exactly zero revenue: piracy.

Holy cow indeed, Scooter.


MLB.TV Terms and Conditions
AdAge - "How Major League Baseball is trying to draw more young fans"
ESPN - "Singin' the 'Baseball Blackout Blues'"
Star Tribune - "Commissioner Rob Manfred hints at possible end to MLB streaming blackouts in wake of Diamond Sports bankruptcy"
USA Today - "Here are the MLB.TV blackout rules that will likely frustrate fans throughout the 2023 season"
Wikimedia - "File:MLB Blackout Areas.svg"