The Post has learned that Major League Baseball is in talks to launch a nationwide video-streaming service that will allow fans to watch their teams’ home games without a cable-TV subscription.
A person with direct knowledge of the negotiations said the web-based service could solve the decades-old embarrassment for baseball fans, which some have blamed on declining league numbers.
Sources said the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are also planning to partner with MLB on the new streaming service. Insiders say subscription rates vary across geographical markets and can range between $ 10 and $ 20 per month — less than the monthly cost of most cable-TV packages, which can easily exceed $ 100.
Since the 1990s, baseball fans have often watched cable TV to see their local sports teams play at home, as teams have sold broadcast rights to regional sports networks or RSNs, then to cable and satellite-TV operators.
While MLB wants to give fans the option of setting aside valuable cable packages, local games are broadcasted on cable just as they are now, according to people familiar with the plans. Sources said the league’s MLB.TV service will continue to operate, offering games outside the market for a subscription fee.
Sources said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could donate a portion of streaming revenue to cable-TV giants to cover potential subscriber losses. Manfred’s pitch is that cable TV will not lose more subscribers because MLB is mainly targeted at younger consumers who cut the cord, sources said. Cable companies do not have streaming rights but may retaliate by paying less to broadcast games if they don’t like the bargain, sources said.
As for teams, MLB’s streaming service pays them based on viewership in their local markets. One MLB owner said the league has evaluated its owners and believes there is general support for it, though no vote has been taken. In fact, MLB and team owners are worried about viewers’ dire predictions. According to annual surveys by the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans will not watch cable or satellite TV in a few years.
According to SportsNot, the number of MLB viewers is down 12 percent this year compared to the 2019 season. 45 million fans attending regular-season games in 2021 saw a 34 percent drop compared to the two seasons. While the epidemic is mostly to blame, it still has the least number of fans in the full season since 1984.
Sources said negotiations between MLB and other parties were boring and while negotiating the terms, the deal was still not close.
Meanwhile, sources say that Manfred may still face barbaric negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group, a Maryland-based telecom giant that owns digital broadcast rights to 14 of the league’s 30 baseball teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.
“We believe those digital rights are crucial,” Manfred said last week at the CAA World Congress of Sports Conference. “And we want to own and control the platform they deliver. We can have partners in that process.”
Manfred did not elaborate and an MLB spokesman declined to comment.
Both MLB and Sinclair have sustainable legal rights to home-game streaming rights. Nevertheless, MLB says it wants to launch its service independently of Sinclair’s Diamond Sports unit, which currently broadcasts most of its MLB games through its Bali Sports-branded regional TV networks.
Although Manfred’s plan looks ambitious, sources say that recent trouble at Sinclair could pick him up. As previously reported by The Post, Sinclair attempted to raise $ 250 million to launch its own video-streaming service in June, but could not do so without MLB approval.
“I thought it was egotistical [Sinclair] To morph from a cable broadcast company to a streaming company, ”said Greg Bouris, director of Adelphi University’s sports management program and former director of communications for the MLB Players Association.
At first, sources tried to persuade MLB to let Sinclair control the service for several years before handing over the hold to MLB. But the league does not have it, citing Sinclair’s financial position and raising concerns that the company will not be able to afford the money it needs for good quality broadcasting, sources said.
In 2019, Sinclair’s Diamond Sports subsidiary paid $ 9.6 billion for Fox Regional Sports Networks, which was renamed Bally, giving it exclusive rights to 14 MLB teams, 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams. Sources said it had secured an $ 8 billion loan to fund the deal.
Since then, Dish, Hulu and YouTube TVs have stopped shipping Bali’s RSNs, with revenues from existing delivery deals cutting the cord and declining subscribers. An August Moody’s Investors Service report found that Sinclair “now has a capital structure that does not offer much leverage and weak liquidity.”
In support of Sinclair’s streaming plans, MLB is open to Sinclair’s proposal, in which the league cuts roughly $ 1 billion in annual fees, giving Sinclair more breathing room for its Diamond unit to refinance its debts. Sources said they will mature in 2026.
MLB and Sinclair declined to comment.