Major League Baseball Gets New Media and Piracy

Newsweek has an interesting article up talking about the growing issue of companies using the Slingbox to resell television feeds to people outside of local markets.

One of the primary uses cited in the article is for sport: people who want to watch a local game that isn’t provided on their local stations or limited by sports owners to local markets only. For example, a Knicks fan wanting to watch the latest game if they’re in Texas and can’t see it.

There’s the usual condemnation from cable companies and (oddly unnamed) sporting groups, citing illegal use, breaches of Terms of Service etc. What’s usually missed in this condemnation of piracy of this type is the unmet need: there is demand outside local areas for different sports games, and often people using these methods or similar are dedicated fans who are unable to obtain a live game legally. Instead of looking at better ways to meet demand to starve the desire for this sort of activity, most groups think of the money first, do little to cater for it, and often punish supporters.

Except I’m happy to note: Major League Baseball (MLB).

Live sporting events are slowly creeping on the web, although we’ve still got a long way to go for universal coverage. But the MLB actually understands the reasons why fans do this. Here’s the direct quote from the article:

The major professional sports leagues aren’t big fans either, largely because it enables viewers to skirt the leagues’ multi-million-dollar exclusive broadcast partnerships that restrict regional broadcasts and provide local blackouts for programming when games aren’t sold out. So far, however, none of the leagues seem willing to prosecute unauthorized broadcasts or alienate some of their most avid fans. “Our fans are never wrong,” says MLB.comCEO Bob Bowman. “We can never suggest that a fan shouldn’t do everything he or she is doing to watch a baseball game… the best way to combat these gray activities is to have a better product: higher quality, more streams, high definition, things that [Slingbox] can’t do.

Hellajuah Bob Bowman. You get it. Now if only other media outlets and sporting groups could as well. There’s hope ahead that artificial constraits on media viewing may encourage legal innovation, not arbitrary pursuit of fans who should be encouraged to watch more games, not have them taken away, even when they’re watching them by gray means.