MLB, It’s Time To Let Iowans Watch Games They Want To Bet On

Posted By Russ Mitchell on March 31, 2021 - Last Updated on June 3, 2021

Editor’s note: The following article represents the views of the author. 

A visit to the official Major League Baseball website includes a section devoted exclusively to fans.

Literally, the page is called “MLB fans.” You’ll find kids’ clubs, portals to original programming on a YouTube channel and community service information.

The list goes on.

In other words, baseball wants eyes and expendable income directed its way. Perfect timing, too. Back in the ’80s, fans had the Braves on WTBS, the Cubs on WGN or a “Game of the Week” on one of the major networks.

That’s it.

Now, MLB.TV subscriptions are a streaming window to thousands of games each season. Fans of the Red Sox can stream their team’s games while in Boston, Kentucky. Fans of the Marlins can log on from Miami, Ohio. Bettors can follow each pitch for a dozen games going on at the same time.

Access and the emergence of remote sports betting is the magic bean for a sport that needs a revitalized fan base.

Unfortunately, if you’re not a fan of an “out-of-market” team, you’re still out of luck in Iowa.

Bettors can wager on a Kansas City game. They just can’t stream the Royals to see if the bet pays off. Put cash on the Cubs or Cardinals. Wager on the White Sox. Bet on the Brewers and check the total on the Twins game. Just don’t expect to stream any of those teams — no matter where you are in the state.

If your favorite baseball team’s home state touches the Hawkeye State, your streams won’t come true.

MLB blackouts began as effort to drive attendance

The Federal Communications Commission regulated blackouts starting in 1974 with the NFL in mind.

The rules allowed professional sports leagues to include local blackout zones as part of broadcast rights negotiations. If the Vikings didn’t sell out (or mostly sell out) the Metrodome, your Uncle Marvin and Aunt Edna in Minneapolis couldn’t watch the game from the comfort of their home. Leagues wanted Marvin and Edna to buy tickets, programs and pretzels.

The FCC did too.

In fact, old FCC rules prohibited “cable and satellite operators from airing any sports event that had been blacked out on a local broadcast station.” A Sept. 30, 2014, order ended FCC involvement in those decisions saying:

“The Commission’s sports blackout rules are no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly 40 years ago. At that time, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and most NFL games failed to sell out. Today, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue.”

The last sentence explains MLB’s decision to block Iowa’s fans and MLB bettors from streaming the baseball games they enjoy.

Franchises want you to call your channel providers

Here’s a general lay of the land using one provider example: Mediacom.

The state’s largest cable provider carries different regional sports network packages for customers in different parts of the state. Baseball fans can watch the Minnesota Twins in the northwest part of the state, while fans in central and eastern Iowa are more likely to get the Cardinals and White Sox channels instead.

That’s not good enough for MLB and its franchises, however.

Much like the NFL wanted Marvin and Edna to go to the Metrodome, baseball now wants cousin Tyler in northwest Iowa to call Mediacom and demand the Cardinals’ regional sports broadcasting network.

Put another way, MLB.TV streaming blackouts are in place because baseball wants companies to pick up the channels for all of the region’s teams of interest. They want Cardinals fans near the Minnesota border (and Twins fans near the Missouri border) to lobby Mediacom for added sports channels.

2021 MLB season will bring focus to Iowa

At MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince called the 2021 Field of Dreams game “one of the most highly anticipated games in Major League Baseball history.”

The White Sox and New York Yankees will play Thursday, Aug. 12, in a specially-constructed 8,000-seat ballpark near the Field of Dreams movie backdrop in Dyersville.

Baseball executives are sure to be in attendance. We hope their visit to the state drives home how much fans and bettors in Iowa love baseball. Hopefully, they take a moment to realize how draconian a six-team blackout is in the heart of the Midwest.

For now, the MLB.TV blackout policies in Iowa make about as much sense as blacking out San Francisco and Oakland games in the US territory of Guam.

Yep, baseball does it there, too. An island 5,800 miles away is considered the Bay Area’s “home market.”

It’s time to change the restrictions because if you block it, new fans won’t come.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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