Major League Baseball – It is time to get it right… especially on the web

August 6, 2006

In 1968, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. I was five. Today, I have an autograph from every member of the ’68 team including the batboy and managers. In 1984, the year I met my wife, the Tigers won the World Series again. I have several autographs from ’84 including bats from: Trammel, Whitaker, Gibson, Sparky Anderson and Johnson. 

At the moment (2006), the Detroit Tigers are the best team in baseball. They don’t stink anymore. The Cathedral known as Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel (OK, enough with the movie lines…) While I am a baseball fan, I am first and foremost a Tiger fan.

So what? Right, I agree. So what… As a baseball fan, often times we wait. The Red Sox faithful waited from 1918 until 2004 to rid themselves of the Curse of the Bambino. Cub fans still wait. And so it goes.  I waited from ’68, when my love for the Tigers was handed down from my grandfather, until ’84. Even getting married that year didn’t take my eye off the ball. The Tigers won. 

Unfortunately, my wait from ’68 to ’84 seems trite compared to my wait from ’84 until now… To me, the hiring of Jim Leyland as manager was the second coming of Billy Martin. This year Tiger fans still wait, but we wait earnestly and with hope.

So, if I do the Math, I realize that I had better enjoy the Tigers this year or else I may have to wait until I am well into my seventies to experience this again. So in early May, when it was clear the Tigers were pretty good, I set out to live the season. I set out to hand down the Tigers to my son. For the regular season, I purchased the Extra Innings package from DirecTV. For the post season, I secured hotel rooms throughout the month of October in Detroit. I am ready.

Last night I sat down to watch the Tigers play the White Sox in Detroit. I flipped my DirecTV on to watch the game and it was blacked out. Hmmm…not to worry since I subscribe to every channel DirecTV offers . I switched to the Detroit sports channel…blacked out. OK, I thought, I’ll switch to the Chicago sports channel…blacked out. Since I don’t live within 5 hours of Chicago and it would take a day to get to Detroit and I can’t get cable out in the country, I am starting to get confused.

Not to worry. I decided to subscribe to MLB.com and stream the game. I reached in my wallet and handed MLB.com $29.95 for a season pass with roughly 80% of the season already over…a good deal for them. It was easy. MLB.com really has a great user experience right from the get-go. Unfortunately, when I clicked on the White Sox v. Tiger game, it told me I was blacked out. No dice. No stream. A small note at the bottom of the screen suggested I call if I had a problem. I did. I called.

After 23 minutes on hold with MLB.com, a very nice young man explained to me that because I was in the Chicago-land area I was blacked out from streaming the game.  Bummer… Knowing that even if I put the Sears Tower out in my alfalfa field with the best Winegard antenna known to man that I couldn’t get a Chicago-land station, I decided to find out as much as I could. The young man couldn’t help. I was starting to figure out that both DirecTV and MLB.com have some work to do. 

Instead of magically opening up the stream to me, the young man basically said, “Yes, we know this is a problem. This is a huge problem…most of my calls are about black outs.” It is a problem and it is one that needs to be fixed. And not just for Tiger fans but for ALL baseball fans. There is technology, our technology, which has the granularity to make black-outs (for all sports) precise.

Since nobody knows more about who gets what channels, what content, and so on than Decisionmark, I am going to suggest MLB.com have a sit down with us. Clearly, there is an opportunity to do something that will benefit fans. And if it benefits fans, it benefits baseball.

Still, the night was not a total loss. My son is becoming a Tiger fan. I hope his son(s) will someday be as well. After my half hour of frustration to no avail, I realized that I’m succeeding with my son even though we couldn’t watch last night’s game. In ’68, my favorite player was the guy with the coolest name – Stormin’ Norman Cash. Last night, even when all I could do was track the play-by-play on Yahoo Sports, my five-year-old son looked up at one point from his SpongeBob video game and asked, “Dad, is Magglio up yet?” Magglio Ordonez is the 2006 Detroit Tiger with the coolest name.

All was and is not lost…