Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack – and a bunch of streaming and TV subscriptions, too.
Major League Baseball‘s season opens Thursday, and fans have to navigate various outlets to find their home team’s games this season. This might create some confusion, while causing some viewers to beef up their baseball budgets.
MLB teams play 162 games during the regular season, giving the league a lot of runway to sign media rights deals with various outlets in a bid to broaden its reach and audience. In recent years, the focus has been on placing more games on streaming services, while traditional cable TV is needed for a bulk of game viewing.
Here’s a breakdown of how the landscape looks, for now.
Home base plan
For the baseball fan looking to watch as many games as possible, a traditional pay TV service is still the go-to place.
Regional sports networks air the majority of local games during the season. In addition, national networks like Disney unit ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TBS, as well as Fox Corp.‘s broadcast and pay TV networks, take up a decent chunk of the schedule.
There are a few internet-TV bundle competitors that are an option, too. DirecTV’s DirecTV Stream and FuboTV carry most, if not all, regional sports networks. Other providers like Google‘s YouTube TV and Disney’s Hulu Live TV+ carry few, if any, of these networks.
The reason for that? The high fees networks charge pay TV operators. A “regional sports network” fee is broken out on pay TV bills. It varies by the market.
The fate of the regional sports networks has been brought into question. Recently, Diamond Sports, which operates a portfolio of regional sports networks, filed for bankruptcy protection, toppled by a debt load and the loss of pay TV subscribers.
The networks and the streaming services haven’t gone dark and are still expected to show games this season.
Similarly, Warner Bros. Discovery has been looking to exit the regional sports networks it inherited from the acquisition of Warner from AT&T last year, The Wall Street Journal recently reported. While Warner Bros. sent a notice to the teams looking to transition the network rights over to them, the league and Warner Bros. have been in negotiations to keep the networks running normally for the foreseeable future, people familiar with the matter said.
As the traditional TV audience shrinks, the league and the networks have been looking to streaming services to grow MLB’s audience there. However, as more options are introduced, regional sports networks are getting fewer games and fans have to pay more to watch all games.
“From baseball’s perspective there is not only a need to find new audiences but different demographics,” said Will Mao, senior vice president of media rights consulting at Octagon. “It’s been a longtime narrative the baseball audience is getting older. To find the next generation of fans you need to go where more content is consumed, which is digital streaming platforms.”
With a higher rate of consumers dropping pay TV bundles and opting for streaming services, many networks have created direct-to-consumer streaming app options. Few offset the pay TV losses, but at least provide an option for fans wanting to stream.
New England Sports Network, home of Boston Red Sox games, has a streaming option for fans in its region. Diamond Sports’ Bally Sports+ launched last year, but only offers Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays games as the company negotiates with the league for streaming rights on a team-by-team basis.
The New York Yankees’ YES Network launched its own option the day before Opening Day, priced at $25 a month. Still, for Yankees fans, it can be particularly confusing. Since last year, 20 of its local games have been on Amazon‘s Prime Video rather than YES or a local broadcast network, stemming from Amazon taking a piece of ownership in the network.
This will mark the second season that Apple‘s Apple TV+ will air two games every Friday night. However this year “Friday Night Baseball” will come at an extra cost – a $6.99 subscription to Apple TV+ – as opposed to when it was free last year.
A set of 19 games will once again air on Sundays on Comcast‘s Peacock beginning April 23 of this year, a bit earlier than its May 8 start last year. Peacock, which costs $4.99 a month, will soon have more information about its announcers for the Sunday broadcasts, many of which air at 11:35 a.m. ET or 12:05 p.m. ET, a bit earlier than the typical MLB start time of 1:05 p.m.
Since 2021, ESPN has begun simultaneously airing games on its streaming service ESPN+, which costs $9.99 a month, and also streams a local RSN game most days throughout the season.
“I do empathize now with the rose-colored glasses many have for the traditional cable bundle. There’s value to bundling we’ve learned not just across media but other industries,” said Mao.
These additional streaming bills come as the cost of pay TV subscriptions from satellite and cable providers varies across the U.S. A recent U.S. News report found that an average cable bill costs more than $200 a month, but that could include bundled services, likely broadband service. The Federal Communications Commission’s most recent report from 2018 shows the average of basic cable at $25.40 a month, with the expanded package averaging $71.31. The former is unlikely to include national sports networks.
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of Peacock and CNBC.