"Say it Ain't So": MLB DirecTV deal Update
MLB Boycott, day 7... Notes from the front
There is no real news to report on this dark turn of events--just eerie silence coming from MLB. This silence is extra super terrific since real baseball is just about to start and cable companies are still advertising the "Extra Innings" package. Nice suprise, Bud. Those of us without local access to the Mets, Direct TV, apartment dish access, broadband, or the money and patience to invest in a wholesale revamping of entertainment infrastructure ("switching" is always a pain in the ass, no matter what the corporations tell you) are still screwed. However, in this post I collect some resources, and rage, for interested fans.
For those just tuning in: The MLB is telling two of what I would imagine are its most valuable assets-- loyal partisan fans who have the misfortune of living out of town, and loyal fans of the game of baseball no matter who plays--to shove it up their asses. I live in California, am prohibited by my apartment's location and property manager's rules from having a dish installed and cannot for financial reasons afford anymore than the free dial-up service I get for free through my work. No Mets for me.
In yesterday's New York Times, Richard Sandomir updated his original story, this time focusing on the fan reaction: tears, frustration, general disgrunt. It's a must-read, especially since the issue is not getting much coverage in the tabloids which are more interested in Omar's trip to Ghana! (hmm, if it is true the NY media and media in general (world wide leader) generally do not make a major issue of cable access problems, I wonder why). Go ahead, go over to Sportspyder and look for coverage of this issue. Anyhow, the upshot of Sandomir's article--that fans will be emotionally devastated especially because humans do not psychologically appreciate having something they take for granted taken away-- is worth dwelling on:
This is a case of taking something that a part of the fan base has grown accustomed to and selling it to a higher bidder, which is available to 15 million subscribers, less than one-fifth the cable universe.
And it raises these simple questions: Why anger any part of your fan base? Why marginalize any part of your fan base?
In Sports Illustrated, an article by John Donovan recovers from a rather patronizing opening to give voice to fans and offer some direction as to where to lodge complaints. After overstating the leeway the FCC gives apartment-bound fans who want access to dishes, Donovan's article does give voice to emailers who put a point on the problem: taking away newly acquired programing choice from consumers is not a winning proposition, the deal makes MLB look exceedingly unresponsive and uncaring, and fans are being screwed and squeezed.
Is this the fan perception the MLB wants to nurture?:
[Baseball] won't be happy until they have squeezed every last nickel from the same people that have already been separated from their paychecks by parking, concessions and bobbleheads. -- Mark Pierce, Modesto, Calif.
The inevitable horror story of trying to communicate with the MLB or any relevent authority is captured suscinctly in one email from a woman who tried to fight the power:
I've spent the day, in between work, trying to get some answers. I started by phoning MLB, where I was transferred to their Public Relations voicemail. Still waiting for a response from them. Then I called MLB Advanced Media's VP of Corporate Communications, who did seem to listen to me, though his job is to sell me MLB.TV. By the way, I've always subscribed to that, too, as a last resort backup which, unfortunately, has never worked very well with our broadband connection. But this VP did give me another number to call, supposedly in the Commissioner's Office. I tried it but was left extremely frustrated by my attempt to register my complaint with the surname-less "Vinny," who also informed me that the Commish's office doesn't have an e-mail address, and that instead I have to use snail mail to communicate with the powers that be. Well, my sadness had now been transformed to full-blown anger, but I continued my search for answers, first by e-mailing and attempting to speak with someone at InDemand. No response yet from them either. Finally I did e-mail my cable provider, Comcast, but just the New England region [couldn't find an easy way to get through to Comcast corporate HQ], and they did write back telling me that they hadn't heard anything about this DirecTV exclusive deal, but should something like that happen, I should receive a notice included with my monthly bill. -- Jeanette Bottone, Wellesley, Mass.
It would be nice if "we" all banded together to stop this. I have argued elsewhere that this deal hurts the blogging community and baseball alike. In my opinion, there seems to be too many who are just resigned to the deal; this is probably in part an effect of fans being screwed for so long (ticket prices, cable and dish deals, etc.). Just because other major league sports have moved to exclusive shitting-fan-on deals, doesn't make it right. Other sports are not "America's pasttime." Ok, maybe I am naive to believe in baseball's exceptionalism, but hey, there you are.
Taking a page out of America's democracy promotion handbook, baseball wants to expand its reach to Latin America, China, and Africa, but it can't even respect the fans at home. Ok, America doesn't really give a shit about democracy in Africa, but the analogy is there.
Umpbump, cited in Sandomir's follow-up article, has a post worth reading. It turns out it's not a bad site either, although it probably will be loading slowly for a while, due to being linked to by the New York-fucking-Times. Check out the ironic-porn-flavored reports on each teams' off season, or the "Hot Baseball Wives" feature--written by women and men-- if you're so inclined. [Killer quote, on Mark McGuire and his wife: "As you can see, the two have a lot in common — like giant breasts and a love of swimwear. "]
How to put this delicately? MLBtv sucks. There are too many variables, such as internet provider issues and data speeds, to add to the spotty quality of broadcasts and the fact that internet quality DOES NOT YET APPROACH THE QUALITY OF A TYPICAL TELEVISION BROADCAST circa 1986. I had it all last year when I lived abroad, and it was a real headache, one that I only endured because I had no choice. Although it was fun to listen to Mex and the gang during commercials when they didn't realize the mike was still broadcasting to the internet. Of course Keith saved his best stuff for the all-to0-public broadcasts, but I digress. (You can be among the first to enjoy perusing my raving chronicle of frustration with so-called MLBtv over at the Deuce, here, here, here, and here. Reviewing these charming old posts reminds me that I am not the most reasonable, credible source.) Suffice it to say, more reasonable people than I are tearing their hair out over the spotty service of MLB's internet venture. And even if it worked well, it ain't tv.
In addition to this problem, Susan Mullen on her blog, raises some pertinent points that I hadn't thought off, particularly the poor quality of Direct tv, and that the company might go belly up before the contract pays off. The DirecTV folks are obviously betting that switching to their service on account of their near-monopoly on national baseball will mean new customers who will have to depend on DirecTV for all their television needs. But if customers are dissatisfied with the quality and reliability of Direct TV in the first place, will they really mortgage their entire home entertainment experience on a inferior service, especially if they have already invested time and energy in trying out both services?
Ms. Mullen links to Daily News columnist Bob Raissman, who gives his strongly-worded and apparently weekly "Dweeb of the Week" award to the MLB. Here's what he says:
Dweeb of the Week
Major League Baseball
For continuing to negotiate a deal that will pull its "Extra Innings" package off cable and make it exclusive property of DirecTV. While MLB's intent is to extract more dough from a satellite provider, any move off cable will shaft loyal fans who subscribed to "Extra Innings." Also, it is likely "Extra Innings" on cable reached a broader fan base than it will on DirecTV. This is just another example of MLB saying it is working in the best interest of fans before turning around and selling them out.
I see this first as a betrayal of trust, and second as a wrongheaded economic decision that hurts the game. It also, I would argue, goes against the clubs' and players' interest. Again, its a naive viewpoint maybe, but along with Jazz and some other thing I can't remember, baseball is one of America's three contributions to Western Civilization. It is shameful that the MLB feels that a fanbase who suffered work stoppages and steroid scandals will just keep saying thank you sir, may i have another. We are viewed, mostly correctly, as having elastic preferences such that we will pay any price for access. It does seem that fans, even Boston Bruin fans, generally put up with major league extortion to a certain point. The extortion is both obvious (outrageous ticket prices, food price gauging at the stadium, playoff ticket prices and availability) and subtle (raising the price of parking at Dodgers Stadium so that the inflation rate resembles the economies of some post-cold war eastern European states, shrinking the size of new baseball parks in the name of "intimacy" and "ammenity," so that corporate fat cats are the main customer and the effect of ticket demand can support future ticket price hikes).
However this approach has its limits. Whether you are a Marxist paranoid or a capitalist stooge, it will eventually dawn upon you that your preferences, as the customer, are not foremost in the minds of these greedy bastards. Nothing lasts forever, MLB, just look at the NHL. I remember the delight I felt when ESPN and ESPN two started their national broadcast of NHL, but look where the NHL is now, if you even care. Fans will not stick with a sport forever, and most Americans find baseball "boring" like they once found hockey "uninteresting" or "Canadian." So the picture may seem rosy and the present popularity of baseball a ripe environment for locking in your advantages, but the NFL and NBA are far more popular, and in some senses, better run businesses. In this so-called long tail media environment, fans have so many choices, and only have so many dollars to throw at sports. So why give them excuses to turn away in droves?
As for the Mets club specifically, Mr. Wilpon, your team is finally showing signs of being managed competently, has young bankable stars, great team chemistry, players exciting enough to be potential national stars, how do you feel about this deal? Picture the young Southern California potential fan, he or she won't know who Jose Reyes is, much less beg the folks to drop a couple hundred on a shamelessly over priced "official" jersey. And hey, David Wright's agent, how is this deal going to affect the national marketing of your wonderboy? You know how athletes become household names and valuable advertising commodities? Me neither, but I bet it has something to do with whether or not a fan can watch them play.
What to do?
It would be nice to get more journalist's support on this issue, in addition to the aforementioned Sandomir, Raissman, and also John Donovan (I'm talking to you, Mets beat writers from "populist" tabloids). These are the folks who not only have the wide media access, but also deal with the MLB on a day to day basis, so know how to communicate with the suits in ways Joe and Jane fan or Jimmy-Blogger have no access to. Of course, it would be even nicer if they would break ranks and provide us with some the emails of MLB movers and shakers--means of getting the consumer message across when snail mail is so inefficient and calls will just lead to frustration and heart problems--but for now the info that John Donovan provides will have to do.
1) write a letter:
Office of the Commissioner
Major League Baseball
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167
2) make a call:
Office of Commissioner (212) 931-7800
MLB's customer "service" (866) 800-1275
[by the way, when will modern companies realize that consumers realize why they lack public toll-free numbers, and will punish the companies accordingly? Making us pay to call you isn't service, pal, it just shows that you don't really care. You can afford a few operators.]
3). Donovan also recommends hitting the Mets:
You can also call or write your local team. Here are those addresses. You can e-mail your local team at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Replace teamname with your local team name. Get it?)
4) Go all government on the MLB, and remind the Commish of how he must have squirmed watching Sammy Sosa forget English and Mark McGuire cowering like Roid-Jello in publicly
And if you want to go above baseball's head, you can voice your concerns right to Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the new head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can contact him here: The former chairman, now the ranking member on the committee, is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Contact him here.
As for ideas of how to follow the Mets and still boycott MLB, I have none, but, to paraphrase Dick Cheney, it won't stop me.
Looking for an holiday experience more terrifying for children than the Benson's turn as Mets clubhouse Santa? Look no further than Tommy Lasorda's blog. Suprise: the guy almost has more honorary doctorates than restaurant recommendations!