MLB Goes ‘Big Brother’ To Protect Blackout Rule

One very cool aspect of the MLB is the digital innovation. Their MLB.TV application is perfect for fans outside their team’s viewing area, and it’s only getting better with the At Bat iPhone/iTouch application. For just $10, the user can watch streaming video of baseball games on their iDevice, which is awesome as long as you’re not driving. In fact, we might go so far as to call the MLB the most technology-friendly sport in America.

Blackout Map
(This is what a clusterfudge looks like.)

…That is, of course, if it weren’t for the arcane, obsolete blackout rule that still dominates game coverage. For fans in the immediate area of major league teams, the rule has no real bearing on their MLB.tv account; the games are blacked out, yes, but they can still just watch on regular television. For fans outside market areas, though, this presents a real problem; as you can see by the map above (larger version here), some areas like Las Vegas and the state of Iowa are in six “local viewing” areas - and by “local viewing,” they mean blackout.

With something as portable as an iPhone or iTouch, though, simply using a credit card number to determine the local viewing area is insufficient. Well, because it’s portable, and because they can do much better.

MOUTHPIECE SPORTS has the rather incredible details about what lengths to which the MLB is going in order to protect the broadcast rights, including, basically, tracking you from space:

[MLB:] Blackout restrictions will apply for MLB.com At Bat 2009, using GPS technology.

Now that you can watch games while driving through the league’s territorial demarcations, there is the dangerous possibility of you catching a few minutes of a Reds game while trespassing through the team’s home territory. Think again, villain. The League will watch you from space, and if you pull any blackout-circumventing shenanigans, it will shut you down. Believe it.

Yes, incredibly, the league will be monitoring* the location of the mobile devices, and if you drive too close to the televised team’s local area (sometimes several hundred miles away), off the game goes until you back the truck up.

And again, while it’s fine that the MLB wants to protect its broadcast partners, the very real problem is that the “local viewing map” doesn’t correspond with what’s actually on television in those areas. Iowa, for example, is in six teams’ areas, as mentioned above.

But only two are ever going to be on TV at a time, and between the Twins, Royals, and Brewers, only about 40 games will be televised. But a Twins fan in Des Moines won’t be able to watch any of them; not on television (not even when they’re on ESPN!), not online, and not on their iPod. Charlotte, likewise, is shut off from the Washington D.C.-area teams despite having no chance in hell of ever finding them locally televised.

It’s a dinosaur of a policy that hurts the national standing of the sport (can you imagine if football tried this?), and that baseball is using such technological advances to keep it in place rather than find a way around it just boggles the mind.

*This seems like a more active verb than needs to be here. There’s not a group of people staring at little dots moving around on a giant map of the United States. It’s all computerized, obviously. There’s no evil bald guy in a war room.