Time Out From Gonzales for an anti-MLB Rant
I hope you all will forgive me for taking a day off from the U.S. Attorney scandal (we are in a pre-Kyle Sampson lull anyway) to focus instead on what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) chaired a Commerce Committee meeting to investigate the greedy, short-sighted deal Major League Baseball cut with DirecTV to give the satellite provider exclusive rights to show out-of-market baseball games this year under a pay service called "Extra Innings." There are a few legal issues involved, most of which are so complicated that they aren't worth getting into here. The reason I care about this topic is that I am one of the hundreds of thousands of people who would have to switch from cable or Dish TV to DirecTV just to watch my favorite baseball team play.
No big deal, right? Right. I concede that in the grand scope of things this is not the most pressing issue of our time. But it's appalling the level of greed and arrogance in play here. There are as I say hundreds of thousands of cable and Dish TV customers who have been happy-- I would even say delighted-- to pay a few hundreds dollars each year to watch their teams. And since 2002 cable and Dish TV has paid good money to MLB to be able to provide that service. Supply and demand working in synch. But MLB wants to promote its own product-- MLB.tv., an online service that allows customers to watch games on their computers. Also, MLB wants to ultimately offer a baseball channel not unlike the National Football League's popular NFL Network. So MLB went looking for an exclusive deal that would ace out its current partners and found a willing new partner in DirecTV.
I don't blame DirecTV for making the deal. It's a great way for those guys to try to make a splash in a very competitive market. What I do blame DirecTV for, however, is the company's onerous service requirements for people like me who only want to sign up to see baseball. When I called a few weeks ago, I was told that I had to buy a $29.95 package (the minimum) just for the right to be able to purchase Extra Innings. Also, there is an early-termination fee if I want to stop my service (say, after the baseball season). If DirecTV is looking to lure customers like me, they aren't doing a very good job of it. They should make it easy not difficult for me to opt-in just for my "Extra Innings" package-- to them, it's found money since I would be a DirecTV customer already if I thought its service was better than cable.
But most of my ire is directed toward the people who run baseball. When they first cut the deal with DirecTV and its competitors (and their customers) cried foul, MLB relented and agreed to allow cable and Dish TV to match the offer. It was called a "poison pill" clause then and, indeed, when cable tried to match the offer last week, MLB refused to accept the deal, saying only that the cable industry had fallen short of matching each and every one of the material terms. So a sport that is tainted with a steroids scandal and already reeling from accusations that it is simply a greedy enterprise that ought to lose its anti-trust exemption is... acting like a greedy enterprise that ought to lose its anti-trust exemption.
Enter Kerry. Despite an honest effort, he failed yesterday to bridge the gulf between cable and baseball. All the Senator was able to do was to get the parties to agree to talk before Opening Day (which is Sunday). The latest deal on the table would allow the cable companies to carry Extra Innings for another two years while the parties try to hammer out the terms of a deal focused upon that new baseball channel. It's a no-brainer and shameful that baseball won't go for it. MLB can talk until it is blue in the face about its right in the free market to contract with whomever it wishes. But it is never going to convince me and millions of other dedicated fans that it is doing right by us.
By Andrew Cohen |
March 28, 2007; 8:39 AM ET
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