.St. Louis Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler, left, scores past Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 2, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)s
The 2017 Major League Baseball season will feature something that once seemed utterly implausible — no, not just the Chicago Cubs raising a new World Series championship flag at Wrigley Field.
This year, baseball fans who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV services will finally be able to stream their teams’ games through one of the cheapest video services around, Sling TV, without having to resort to illegal workarounds.
It may not be as huge of a deal as ending a 108-year championship drought, yet it still represents a massive shift in how fans watch their beloved pastime.
Online video gets on base
This newfound online access comes from Sling adding Comcast regional sports networks to its sports lineup that carry Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s & San Francisco Giants games.
Sling moreover now offers a raft of Fox regional sports networks covering the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays & Texas Rangers.
If the Zip code associated with your credit card is close enough to those cities — Sling TV did not define that limit, saying it would be up to each network — you’ll obtain access to your favorite team’s games with the $25 per month Sling Blue package.
.The Sling TV app for Apple TV.
There’s one major catch though. The app can detect when you’re not in your home area & will automatically cut of access to your local sports network when you’re out of range.
Two other online-TV options, the DirecTV Now service AT&T (T) launched last fall & the PlayStation Vue offering from Sony (SNE), moreover carry Comcast (CMCSA) & Fox regional sports networks, yet they cost more. DirecTV Now reserves them for its $50 & up monthly plans, while watching your team’s network through Playstation Vue will cost you is $35 to $45.
Vue is, however, the only online option for local Boston Red Sox & Philadelphia Phillies fans.
None of these services charge extra monthly fees for a tuner box, unlike cable or satellite providers. A phone, tablet or a streaming-media player plugged into a TV is enough.
Baseball’s history of brushback pitches
Until recently, baseball’s response to fans anxious to watch their home team’s games online was that they should go back to a cable or satellite provider.
Baseball has long had a tremendous video service in MLB.tv, yet that maintains regional blackouts that restrict your ability to watch your local team’s games online.
The idea was to protect the pay-TV business of regional sports networks that had paid a premium to carry a those team’s games. But these overlapping blackout areas can span thousands of miles. If you live in Des Moines or Honolulu, MLB.tv cuts you off from five teams.
A deal announced at the start of last year allowed in-market viewing of 25 teams’ games — yet at a $10 surcharge above the regular MLB.tv rate, & with a requirement that you moreover keep a pay-TV bundle including that regional sports network.
What’s changed? MLB Advanced Media, the subsidiary behind MLB.tv, did not respond to questions asking why, yet you can’t ignore the growing numbers of people who have dropped cable & satellite TV subscriptions.
A study released last week by SNL Kagan, a subsidiary of S&P Global (SPGI), found that 13% of American households now subscribe to broadband yet not a traditional pay TV bundle.
Lot of ballgame left to play
As impressive as that list of sports networks now available online may be, it still leaves out some major exceptions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers & their pricey SportsNet LA network — many pay-TV services around L.A. still don’t carry it — remain unavailable at Sling, DirecTV Now & PlayStation Vue. So do the networks of the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners & Washington Nationals.
Seeing the Nationals on that list is a source of personal frustration. They’re my team, & during their first season in D.C., MLB.tv had the sense to lift regional blackouts for Nationals games when so few pay-TV services carried the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
MASN spokesman David Lee confirmed that no in-market streaming exists & had no forecast for progress. That looked offensive enough in 2009; in 2017, it’s almost as irritating as baseball changing the intentional-walk rule.
Some frustrated viewers will resort to technical countermeasures like proxy servers that spoof MLB.tv into thinking they’re hundreds of miles away. Others — like, perhaps, the T-Mobile (TMUS) subscribers who will obtain a free subscription to MLB.tv on Tuesday — will see they’re shut out, then click or tap elsewhere in frustration.
I may have to express my frustration by going to a bunch of Nats games & paying too much for a Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke & a DC Brau pale ale. That will totally show them, right?
More from Rob:
Trump is going after the open internet next Congress votes to roll back internet privacy protection Digital rights report hits Apple for its secrecy You’re not as secure online as you might think
Email Rob at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.
Consumer DiscretionarySports & RecreationSt. Louis CardinalsChicago Cubsregional sports networksMajor League BaseballSling TV