An MLB In-Market Streaming Service Could Be in the Works, NBA and NHL Possible Partners

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Last week, it was reported that Major League Baseball wanted a stake in Sinclair’s Bally Sports Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) planned direct-to-consumer streaming service. Now, it seems that MLB wants to skip the middleman and offer their own hometown in-market streaming service according to a new report from Josh Kosman at the New York Post.

Bally Sports RSNs cover 42 professional teams nationwide (14 MLB teams, 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL teams) but their channels have been dropped off by many major live-TV streaming providers over the last couple of years. Having a cord-cutter-friendly in-market streaming service would help increase MLB’s viewership while being less expensive than cable. According to Kosman’s report, insiders say the monthly subscription would range from $10-$20 per month and vary based on geographic market.

MLB’s In-Market Service Would Be Supplemental for Cord Cutters

The idea of the in-market streaming service would allow MLB to regain fans that have not been able to watch due to the lack of availability on streaming services. The MLB still has to work out the fine details with their cable providers.

More from Kosman’s report:

“While the MLB wants to give fans the option to sidestep pricey cable packages, local games will still be broadcast on cable as they are now and the broadcasts would be identical, according to people familiar with the plans. The league’s MLB.TV service, which offers out-of-market games for a subscription fee, will also continue to operate, sources said.

Sources said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could end up offering cable-TV giants a piece of the streaming revenue to compensate for potential subscriber losses. Manfred’s pitch is that cable TV won’t lose many subscribers, as MLB is mainly targeting younger customers who have already cut the cord, sources said. The cable companies don’t have streaming rights but could retaliate by paying less to broadcast games if they don’t like the bargain, sources said.”

Since cable TV providers will be getting their share of streaming revenue, the in-market service seems like it should please everyone. However, Sinclair may be an obstacle to the MLB’s plan, since the broadcast company wants to launch its own DTC streaming service.

Can MLB and Sinclair Come to an Agreement That Would Be A Mutual Homerun?

Sinclair’s has been in financial trouble with talks of restructuring their RSNs, which have been heavily impacted due to the pandemic. Manfred and the MLB are aware of this and have been using this during their negotiations regarding the in-market streaming service, according to Kosman’s report:

“Both MLB and Sinclair have plausible legal claims to the hometown-game streaming rights. Nevertheless, insiders say MLB wants to launch its service independently of Sinclair’s Diamond Sports unit, which currently airs most of its MLB games through its Bally Sports-branded regional TV networks.

While Manfred’s plan looks ambitious, sources said recent troubles at Sinclair may give him a leg up in talks. As first reported by The Post, Sinclair in June tried to raise $250 million to launch its own video-streaming service, but cannot do so without MLB approval.

At first, sources said Sinclair tried to persuade MLB to allow it to control the service for several years before handing the reins to MLB. But the league wasn’t having it, citing Sinclair’s financial condition and raising concerns that the company won’t be able to spend the money that’s needed for high-quality broadcasts, sources said.”

When Can Fans Expect The In-Market Streaming Service?

Kosman’s reported that the MLB wants to launch the hometown in-market streaming service as early as 2023. According to the report, insiders have said that the MLB has had talks with the NBA and NHL as partners. At the low price of $10-$20 per month, the service would be a perfect and affordable alternative to high-priced cable packages. 

Kosman’s report has an interesting tidbit regarding how the temperature in the voting room in regards to the MLB owners and the league’s viewership among younger viewers:

“As for the teams, MLB’s streaming service would pay them based on viewership in their local markets. One MLB owner said the league has kept its owners appraised, and believes it has general support though no vote has been taken. Indeed, the MLB and team owners are concerned over dire forecasts for viewership. Roughly half of Americans will not be watching cable or satellite TV within a few years, according to Pew Research Center annual surveys.”

If the MLB can pull this off, America’s Pastime will have a grand slam when it comes to updating its viewing habits for modern times. If the league can get the NBA and NHL on base as partners, then the in-market streaming service will be out of the park triple, allowing cord cutters to stream home at the bottom of the 9th inning.

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