Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro sat for a lengthy interview with Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star published on Sunday. One of the topics discussed was the new MLB.tv blackout of Jays games in Canada disclosed to fans late last week, which angered Canadian fans who used the service to stream Jays games.
The move was especially insulting to loyal MLB.tv viewers given that subscription renewals are billed on or about March 1st of every year, which means they had very little notice of a major change before being charged for the new season. It was even more perplexing given that MLB.tv subscriptions are currently being offered to Jays fans who purchase 40-ticket packages for 2020.
Chisholm asked Shapiro whether the blackout decision was related to discussions about local streaming rights at owners’ meetings. Shapiro’s response was basically, “everybody else does it.”
“When it comes to MLB.TV … we were the only market that didn’t have a local blackout on MLB.TV. That was just a unique (situation). We were the only merchandise house that wasn’t serviced by Fanatics until last year. We did our own merch until last year. Every other major league team, Fanatics had a deal with MLB.
“So, the Canadian market is sometimes carved out, and sometimes it just lags behind the way MLB treats it, because of the unique regulatory systems and other policies that impact doing business in Canada. Now they’ve just transitioned the exact same approach for us as every other major league team. The way we’re being treated now, the other 29 markets have all had the exact same circuit. You could go to Baltimore, Detroit, you can go to L.A. or Chicago or Boston or Dallas, and they’ve all had the exact same thing where they’re incapable of watching through MLB.TV, they’re incapable of watching their local stream. They can still get it through their (regional sports network), which is the same as us.”
This is not a real explanation. Shapiro is trying to pass the buck by saying the Jays have to go along with how MLB treats all the other franchises even though he has admitted Canada is a unique market because the country follows different laws. It’s especially convenient that this decision by the league is beneficial to the team owner, which happens to be a cable provider (Rogers Communications).
Local blackouts have been one of the major complaints about the MLB.tv service by US fans. Viewers in locations like the state of Iowa are blacked out of watching as many as six MLB teams even though they are hours away from any MLB ballpark. While blackouts are great for the bottom line of cable companies like Rogers, they don’t make the game accessible to fans who want to be able to watch their favorite teams.
It’s especially unfair that the entire country of Canada has been ruled to be the Jays’ local market because the Jays are the only MLB team in Canada. Viewers located in southern Ontario are the only ones who are within a few hours’ travel from the ballpark. No one else in Canada is “local.”
Longtime Cubs fans are aware that the Northsiders grew a nationwide fanbase in the USA thanks to national distribution of Cubs games on the WGN “superstation.” Easy access to televised games created many new baseball and Cubs fans. The decision to black out Canadians from Jays games on MLB.tv may seem like a no-brainer for Rogers in financial terms, but it will only serve to make Major League Baseball less accessible to fans in Canada, hindering growth of the fanbase just as the franchise is set to begin a new era.
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