Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Crew games through the MLS Match Day Live program. Since I don't have cable, I'd watch on my iPad in a quiet corner of the house when the team was away from home. The streams were often very good and very reliable (at least on the iPad). I'd occasionally watch other teams around the league as well. It's a great way to get my MLS fix.
With the season right around the corner, It's that time to start signing up for the MLS streaming service. The league has made a few changes. They renamed it, it's now called MLS Live. They also have a more extensive blackout policy. This is where the trouble starts.
When am I blacked out on MLS LIVE?
Generally, you are blacked out of games on MLS LIVE based on a number of factors, including:
- Your local team is televising on a local over-the-air station and you are located within that station's signal.
- Your local team is televising on a local regional sports network and your cable or satellite system falls within the distribution for that local regional sports network (regardless of whether your cable or satellite system actually carries that regional sports network.)
- There is no local television coverage of your local team.
- The game is being televised nationally on - ESPN, FSC, or Telefutura.
The league has long had a blackout for nationally televised games. This year, however, it also appears that the league is adding more factors to whether a game is blocked out. The Crew's new deal with Fox Sports Ohio certainly applies to factor number 2. The league seems to be indicating that they will be more agressive in blocking out online viewing if you happen to be in your team's viewing market, like myself residing in Columbus.
Major League Soccer is certainly well within their rights to restrict access to their product, but this seems to block out a small but growing segment of the population, the cableless. These people seem to be young and technically savvy people who are willing to go online to get their entertainment. This also describes one of the league's core demographic. I would know, I'm one of them. Many other people I've known to leave cable have been younger, tech savvy people.
I find it disappointing that the league is moving in this direction. MLS has long had an understanding that their fans are more likely to turn to online sources. However, it's not odd that the league is heading this direction. Many teams have linked with major regional sports programers. The L.A. Galaxy have a big 10 year deal with Time Warner Cable Sports. The Crew's deal with FSO fits this model as well. These are traditional media partners; with that comes some compromises.
It wouldn't surprise me that these types of big time TV deals are the reason that MLS is moving to a more traditional blackout model. It's still disappointing to the fan looking to sign up and watch their team online. Some may turn back to cable, others to illicit channels, more still may watch in a bar, and a few may not tune in at all. I guess having a beer is looking like a good option.