Cable Dispute Blacks Out MLB Games in 15 US Markets

As the latest MLB season kicks into full gear, fans in 15 markets across the US can’t watch local game broadcasts.

Photo of Minnesota Twins player Max Kepler
Photo by Andy Witchger via CC BY 2.0

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Who’s on first? On TV, no one. 

As the latest Major League Baseball season kicks into full gear, fans in 15 markets across the US can’t watch local game broadcasts after Comcast and regional sports network (RSN) Diamond Sports failed to reach a new contract agreement by a Tuesday night deadline. It’s the latest sign that RSNs may be permanently down in the count.

Diamond Sports in the Rough

Call it negotiating hardball. Comcast, in a constant war to ward off cable customer cord-cutting, is desperate to give subscribers a newfound sense of options. Essentially, the cable provider wants to offer cheaper cable bundles that exclude Diamond Sports channels — breaking with the tradition of including RSNs in even the most basic of bundles. Competitor and fellow flagging cable provider Charter pulled off a similar so-called sports-fee skinny package last year.

Diamond, in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, naturally wants to maintain the sports-centric status quo. But talks broke down ahead of an end-of-April deadline — itself an extension from a previous September deadline — resulting in no new deal, and plenty of winners and losers: 

  • Diamond has previously said its prior deals with Comcast, Charter, and DirecTV generate 81% of its revenue. While the group struck a deal with Charter last month and is reportedly close to one with DirecTV, losing Comcast could make a huge dent.
  • Winners include internet-TV providers like FuboTV, now one of the only ways fans in blacked-out markets can legally watch their teams. Another winner could be the non-sports fan Comcast subscriber, who soon may be spared a lifetime of having to pay for stuff they’d sooner not watch. 

Adam Silver Lining: While the collapse of Diamond Sports could disrupt a major distribution channel for the NBA, league commissioner Adam Silver likely isn’t sweating. Sources tell The Wall Street Journal that Disney is prepared to pay up to $2.6 billion per year to retain its NBA rights, up from around $1.5 billion on its current deal, while Comcast’s NBC may edge out Warner Bros. Discovery with a $2.5 billion-per-year offer, more than double what WBD currently pays. Amazon, too, is likely to get in on the action with a streaming-only package, the WSJ reported, which means the NBA will likely pull in at least $6 billion per year. Whatever happens, we just hope someone keeps employing TNT’s legendary Inside the NBA crew.