Guest Host: Marc Fisher

Today, the Washington Nationals host the St. Louis Cardinals in the city’s first home playoff game since the 1930s. But most area baseball fans won’t be able to watch the game on television because it’s airing exclusively on Major League Baseball’s cable network. We find out why that is, and examine trends in sports broadcasting.

Guests

  • Austin S. Karp Assistant Managing Editor, SportsBusiness Daily

Transcript

  • 13:06:41

    MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at America University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo.

  • 13:06:59

    MR. MARC FISHERComing up this hour -- later on this hour, actually, the life and legacy of Howard Zinn, an activist academic who turned history on its head, but first the business of baseball. It's the first home playoff game for a Washington baseball team in 79 years. In just about 28 seconds, Washington Nationals' pitcher Edwin Jackson will throw the first pitch to the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the National League Division series at Nats Park.

  • 13:07:26

    MR. MARC FISHERBut many Nats fans simply will not be able to see this game unless they managed to score tickets and take a day off from work. Today's game is being carried exclusively by MLB Network, an obscure cable network operated by Major League Baseball. I believe on my home cable system it's about channel 586 or something like that. It's located way in the outback of your cable box and it's only available if you pay for it.

  • 13:07:53

    MR. MARC FISHERBaseball's decision to air the game on MLB Network, as the only one of the four playoff games today that is airing on that network, is part of a broader, strategic shift in the business of sports broadcasting. And here to tell us what that's all about and what it means is Austin Karp. He's the assistant managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily and he's joining us by phone. So why is this Nats game on MLB Network and why is it stuck at 1:00 in the afternoon?

  • 13:08:21

    MR. AUSTIN KARPFirst off, Marc, thanks for having me. Well, you know, like any of these league-owned cable networks, you know, MLB Network really wants to, you know, drive viewership and drive eyeballs to their network. And there's really no better way for any league to do that than to put a playoff game on that network. The first one that's, you know, MLB Network had on Sunday, drew 1.3 million viewers to the network. And that, you know, that was a record for any telecast on the network to date.

  • 13:08:47

    FISHERAnd yet, how does that compare to say one of the TBS broadcasts of these Division Series games?

  • 13:08:54

    KARPI mean, it's obviously way lower. I mean, TBS is in around 99.4 million homes this month, compared to 70 million homes, give or take, for MLB network. So you're talking about a huge drop in the number of home that it's even available to, but I mean just for an example, the wildcard on Friday night, the Orioles are gonna do around 5.3 million viewers.

  • 13:09:16

    FISHERSo five times as many viewers. It's interesting the TBS broadcast of the first Nats playoff game in St. Louis over the weekend, that was on TBS as well, and that earned about an 8.4 rating in the D.C. market, which was the highest rated local TV broadcast since baseball came back to Washington. So a huge achievement, but again, it was on a channel that was much more widely known, as well as in many more homes. For our audience, do you see this as disrespect for Washington baseball fans?

  • 13:09:49

    FISHERGive us a call with your sense of what's going on here, at 1-800-433-8850 or email us at Kojo, K-O-J-O, @wamu.org. And, Austin Karp, is this effort to drive traffic to MLB Network, is that something that, judging from what other sports have done, something that can be successful, is likely to be successful?

  • 13:10:11

    KARPOh, absolutely. I mean, you see NFL Network. They've now expanded, you know, starting in 2006 they had an eight-game package. Last year that package was, you know, the most viewed that the network had had. And this year they have 13 games and they're already on pace for another record-setting season, plus …

  • 13:10:28

    FISHERBut they haven't gone to putting playoff games on their own network, have they?

  • 13:10:32

    KARPNo playoff games. MBA TV has done that. They have done some playoff games, you know, with some markets. And games that maybe weren't on ESPN or TNT, but I mean, there's no greater way to, you know, drive eyeballs than one of these playoff games. And, you know, it's just a business decision by MLB Network and by MLB and the League partners to do this.

  • 13:10:52

    FISHERWell, the other issue that has some fans upset today, is that the Nats game today at 1:00, every other game so far has been a day game. And while everyone loves day baseball, the fact is that when people are working on the middle of the week, they'd rather that the game be on in the evening, but it seems that the New York Yankees have a mortal lock on the primetime viewing slot. Is that fair? And does that produce much larger audiences or is it a chicken or egg kind of thing where, you know, the Yankees are on and therefore it's a large audience or it's an evening show and therefore it's a large audience and the Yankees just happen to benefit from that?

  • 13:11:31

    KARPI mean, obviously, it's fair. That's gonna be, depending on who you ask, but I think it's no surprise to anybody that the Yankees draw eyeballs more than anybody. And, you know, whether it be Fox or TBS, they're gonna wanna get the Yankees in that primetime slot because they're the ones bringing in viewers.

  • 13:11:47

    FISHERWhat's your sense of the ratings for the Nats? I mean, I said earlier that this first playoff opener was an all-time record for local TV broadcasts since baseball came back to Washington, but yet, at the very same moment, more than three times as many Washington households were tuned to the Washington Redskins game that was going on, you know, an early season game as opposed to a playoff game. Do the Washington baseball ratings still lag significantly behind the rest of Major League Baseball?

  • 13:12:21

    KARPYeah, I mean that just speaks to the power of the NFL. I mean it's obviously the juggernaut in U.S. sports television, but it's by no means, you know, a knock on the Nationals who are coming off, you know, their best regular season en masse and to date, they had the biggest increase in local ratings, percentage-wise amongst all MLB teams, but yeah, it's very hard for anything to compete with the NFL these days, whether it be sports or other entertainment programming.

  • 13:12:46

    FISHERAnd the Nationals have dramatically increased their ratings over their first few years in town. Yet, you know, as you say, football is the juggernaut. Do you think that Nats are hampered by the deal that they have for their local sports network, the MASN Network, which is owned almost entirely by the Baltimore Orioles and their owner Peter Angelos and the Nats have a very small share in that organization.

  • 13:13:15

    KARPYeah, I believe that stake is at around, I think, anywhere between 13 and 15 percent, at this point, but obviously those negotiations, they're still taking right now. And a decision could be coming at the end of this season from MLB, but no date has been set on that. So it sort of hampers them in a sense. You know, the Nationals are looking at all these new TV rights that are being signed, whether it be the Rangers or Angels with Fox Sports. And those teams are getting $3 billion over 20 years and obviously the Orioles, who are the majority owners at MASN aren't necessarily offering that high a cut or stake. You know, there still in negotiations about what that stake should be.

  • 13:13:55

    FISHERAnd those negotiations have been going on for upwards of a year. And every time this controversy gets kicked up to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, he says, oh, we're working on it, it's coming soon, we really are frustrated and wish that this thing would come to resolution, but it's obviously in Peter Angelos' interest to stall as long as possible because the prospect of giving the Nats a larger cut and a larger bottom line is something that he's not too thrilled about as the owner of the competing team up the road.

  • 13:14:24

    KARPWell, you know, sources had talked about earlier or over the summer, about how a formula, which was part of the deal to relocate the Nats to D.C., as part of that deal the Nats could receive as much as maybe $2.2 billion which would put them on par with some of these bigger deals. But, yeah, it's definitely in Peter Angelos' interest to, you know, keep as much money in the Orioles pockets as possible.

  • 13:14:51

    FISHERAnd this MASN, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, airs all of the Nats' games during the regular season. It's obviously the same network that carries the Orioles. Is this a unique deal in professional sports, where one team controls another team's TV rights?

  • 13:15:09

    KARPIt's fairly unique, yeah. I mean, you have, you know, some cross sport sort of things, with like Yankee Sports Network airing Mets games, but as far as two MLB networks like this, yeah, it's pretty rare.

  • 13:15:20

    FISHERAnd finally, Austin Karp, the assistant managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily, Major League Baseball as arguably been one of the most innovative sports leagues in terms of distributing their content online. Is the audience for watching games online, at this point, significant in numbers and do you see that trend continuing and with a shifting of the audience from television to online viewing?

  • 13:15:50

    KARPYou know, I haven't seen exact metrics as to, you know, the numbers that MLB.TV or any sort of streaming like that draws, but yeah, I mean, the future is in something like that, whether, you know, all these networks taking of the TV everywhere approach so you can watch games on your iPad, iPhone or whatever handheld devices you might have. And yeah, that is the future, you know, along with the traditional watching in front of your large-screen TV. MLB also offers, you know, they have that Postseason.TV where I think users in the U.S. can stream, I think it's for around $5, but you can watch those MLB Nat games that way as well.

  • 13:16:27

    FISHERAnd when you buy that post-season package for $5, are you seeing those games live online or are you seeing them on a delayed basis?

  • 13:16:36

    KARPI believe you're seeing them live, but with very different camera angles from what TBS or MLB network might be showing.

  • 13:16:41

    FISHERAll right. Great. Well, for those who are actually watching the game and listening to us at the same time, we've perhaps added something, but for those of you who can't watch this game maybe you have a little sense of why that is. And we think Austin Karp, assistant managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily for helping to explain that. Thanks for being with us.

  • 13:17:00

    KARPThanks, Marc.

  • 13:17:01

    FISHERBut we will switch gears after a short break and come back and talk about a history book that had sudden and surprising bestseller status and a controversy that has developed since then. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo.

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