MLB.tv, NBA League Pass Broadband leaving more than money on table with local blackouts

I've been to approximately 20 Mariners games so far this year and as much the hydroplane races annoy me, there's one jumbotron regular I find even more irritating. That'd be the constant barrage of ads for MLB.tv. While the ads are dumb, this isn't what annoys me, it's the fact that they're lying in the face of everyone there.

You know what the 2010 slogan is for MLB.tv? Go ahead and Google it. Yeah, that's right: Baseball Everywhere. For those who have used the service—and I have for the past two years—it's easy to see this is untrue. Now, I knew full-well about the MLB's blackout restrictions going in, and everyone else should as well, but for Major League Baseball and those affiliated to continue to tout the product as a premier or perfect platform for fans is wrong.

As an anecdote, I can watch the Seattle Mariners anywhere...as long as 'anywhere' isn't home in downtown Seattle. Or all of Washington State. Or when I was at school in Missoula, MT. I could travel to as far away as Fairview, Montana (1,100 miles) and still not be able to watch the Mariners.

If you haven't seen it, take a look at the MLB blackout map.I feel awful for anyone who saw an ad for MLB.tv and truly believed they could 'take baseball wherever they go', only to throw down more than $100, go to click a game featuring their favorite team to find out that all games will be blacked out in their area.

Now, what's wrong with this? Why should the NBA and MLB do more to make all games, especially local games, available online? Plain and simple: right now, they're doing wrong by their fans. And not just regular fans, I'd argue some of their biggest fans, their most influential fans. We can live without cable television—which for most of the first-world has become as standard as running water—but we cannot get by without watching our team. We're diehards. We tell everyone about what happened.

I have a colleague, a Portland native, who went to purchase a $15 League Pass Broadband subscription for NBA Summer League (Summer League!) only to find out every single Blazers game would be blacked out. Instead of commenting on first round pick Luke Babbitt or second-year forward Jeff Pendergraph, he's telling everyone how stupid the NBA is for abandoning a core group of fans. Well done, guys.

So, some bullets on why the NBA and MLB need to get their act together.

  • We'll pay. Charge us more, show us ads, we don't care. Figure it out. Everyone I've talked to says they're willing to spend more—in straight dollars, limited access to out-of-market games, or showing us the same ads you're showing cable viewers—to see their favorite team.
  • In case you haven't noticed, we're at a computer. Yeah, that's right, the most powerful communications and marketing tool there is. If there's a great game on, you'll bet we'll tell everyone we can about it. If there's a MLB-created forum for us dedicated fans, I'm sure we'll be willing to take a look and share our opinions with other fans. Even if it's on independent blogs, conversation is conversation. For sports teams and leagues, being talked about is obviously more advantageous than not being talked about.
  • Expand and nurture the base of diehards. If you haven't noticed, young adults (actual young adults, 20-30 year olds) are turning away from unnecessary expenditures like cable television. If we want to watch baseball or basketball, that's what we want to watch, not all the extra channels that come with my subscription to Fox Sports Northwest. We're quickly becoming the generation of Hulu, Netflix Instant and illegal Megavideo streams. And you know what? We're tomorrow's season ticket-holders. Not catering to our fandom now is only going to cause it to wane in the coming years.

So, get it together. There's no reason why Major League Baseball and the NBA can't figure this out. If they want to hold our interest, and our dollars, then stop looking out for the cable companies and work towards giving fans what we want.

NBA League Pass Mobile: a review

Before I launch into this, let me say the fact that technology like this even exists blows my mind. NBA games are being broadcast from arenas all over the country to my phone. Live. Maybe I'm more impressed than other sports fans but I've told almost everyone I cross paths with about this straight-out-of-2035 technology. I know, I know, it's been around since the beginning of the season. But this weekend it was free.

There's two reasons I decided to give this app (I'm on an iPhone) a try now. One is that I live on the West coast (Seattle) so if I do anything between work and home (the gym) I miss all of the East coast games. Sure, I can catch the recorded version but they show me the score as I pick the game and it's just not the same.. The second reason is that this app had previously been $40 and I already own League Pass Broadband. I couldn't justify spending $180 on NBA games. This weekend it was free and afterwards will be just $20.

While this app, and the concept, are for the most part amazing, there are a few flaws worth noting.

First off, it's pretty basic and about what you'd expect. You get all the live games that aren't blacked out in your area. So, anything that's on TV in some form—ESPN, TNT, NBATV or a regional broadcast—will not be played on your phone. This is kind of a bummer but you'll get used to it. Anyway, the features offered via navigation are 'Live', 'Replay', 'Schedule' 'Highlights' and 'More' (Standings and other random info). All are about what they sound like. It's worth noting that with 'Replay' you don't get the games shortly after they end and it doesn't appear as though you get all of them. As I write this late on Saturday night I only have access to three games from Friday's action. Somewhat disappointing but that's not really the meat of this application. That, of course, is the live games.

I'll be completely honest, this review is based on my experience with one game. But it's the situation where I'd use it the most, which is while on the treadmill at the gym. I fired this this application up once I had everything else set and chose the Cavs-Thunder game. Quite the matchup. I was not using WiFi and instead accessing the game over a 3G connection. Definitely not ideal but, like I said, this was the situation in which I'd be using it the most.

My initial reaction when the video came up and things got going was that I had some trouble tracking the ball. It wasn't necessarily the video quality, which wasn't perfect but still sufficient and about what I'd expect for content being streamed to my phone over a data network, but more-so the size of the screen and the content being displayed on it. The Cavs were wearing their ugly Knicks-colored throwbacks and the ball at times 'hid' in the darker unis while being slightly easier to track on the Thunder whites. This didn't make things impossible to enjoy but it was was still a minor annoyance. It's worth noting that I do have terrible eyesight and was running at the time. The experience may not be the same for you. It is, however, better via WiFi, as I tested out a replay once I got home.

The video quality, however, was not my biggest qualm with the app. My biggest complaint is that the program would randomly cut out and take me back to the game selection screen. From there, I'd have to touch the game, wait for it to buffer and then get going again. This process took between 10 and 15 seconds. However, I came into this game with about 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter and had this happen more than ten times. Not a huge issue but it'd be better if it frose for a second and then came back to live action. So, as this is happening over and over I'm convinced the game will come down to a crucial game-winning shot and has the guy lifts off the ground I'll be kicked back to the game selection screen.

Sure enough, with 20 seconds and the Cavs down 2 LeBron gets an outlet pass and goes screaming downcourt. The Thunder collapse on LeBron leaving Boobie Gibson wide open. LeBron dishes to Gibson, Gibson rises and————————————. That's right, booted. I quickly picked the game again and came back to see the crowd roaring and catch the replays (screenshot up top). This was the last time I was dropped so I did get to see LeBron's ridiculous swat on Durant's attempted game-tying shot but it was still frustrating to miss the go-ahead bucket. Sidenote: game highlights.

While the fact that the connectivity isn't quite what it could be, it's somewhat expected with technology that's being tested for the first time. Also, while not quite seeing the ball sometimes and possibly getting booted at others may be minor pain points, I will be purchasing this app for $20 once the free trial comes to an end. If you have an iPhone (or other applicable device) and have the opportunity to use this on a near-daily basis I advise you to do the same because watching games live on your phone certainly is that amazing.