SBJ/Aug. 17-23, 2015/Media

MLB, Fox break impasse in streaming talks

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Local streaming is coming to many Major League Baseball markets next season, thanks to a breakthrough in the league’s long-running negotiations with Fox Sports.

Several industry sources said the league is drafting deal documents with Fox, which holds the local media rights to 15 MLB teams. An agreement to offer authenticated local streaming of live games is expected to be in place by the start of the 2016 season.

The Yankees first streamed games in 2009, ending after 2013.
It was a significant shift in MLB’s negotiating position that led to the breakthrough with Fox, which has been in active negotiations with the league for several years over the streaming service. The Toronto Blue Jays are the only team now streaming live games locally.

MLB moved off of its insistence that it host local games through MLB.com, something league executives wanted so they could ensure the quality of the video streams is high. But that stance proved the biggest roadblock to a deal, as cable operators would have needed to share subscriber data with the league during the user authentication process, something they were not willing to do.

Under the proposed Fox agreement, fans will be able to access games on Fox Sports RSN websites and the FoxSportsGo app, plus distributors’ websites and apps.

As part of the deal, MLB is requiring that Fox’s RSNs use MLB Advanced Media as the vendor to manage the live streams through its new stand-alone BAM Tech operation. Sources said the requirement, in addition to a rights fee that is around 4 percent of a team’s overall media deal, would cost RSNs in the mid-to-high seven figures per team.

Streaming ahead?
A deal between MLB and Fox Sports would put these 15 clubs, whose local media rights are held by Fox, in line to have their games streamed locally.

Atlanta Braves
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Texas Rangers
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Angels
Miami Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers
Minnesota Twins
New York Yankees
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
St. Louis Cardinals
Tampa Bay Rays

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

For MLB, the requirement to use BAM Tech will ensure that the streams’ video quality will be secure.

But the requirement remains a significant sticking point for other RSNs, sources said.

Fox uses vendors like Anvato and Akamai for its FoxSportsGo service and appears willing to use BAM Tech in a similar way. Comcast, which holds the rights to six MLB teams, is less inclined to use it because it already has a division that streams sports programming that is generally regarded as high quality — such as the Olympics streams for NBC and local NBA streams for its RSNs.

In-market streaming for baseball will be a much larger scale, given the everyday nature of MLB’s schedule.

There is no specific timetable for a potential announcement of a deal between Fox and MLB. The two sides hope to complete the agreement around the end of this season, which would give the league and RSNs a full offseason to market the availability of the new local streams before Opening Day 2016.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, working with the league’s president of business and media, Bob Bowman, has made in-market baseball streaming a key league priority, including personally participating in several negotiating sessions.

A deal or deals on in-market streaming will be a boon for the further development of BAM Tech, which was formally authorized by MLB owners meeting last week in Chicago as a stand-alone entity.

In-market streaming negotiations have been a cause of frustration for many years, and RSNs, teams and MLB have agitated to get something done. RSNs have negotiated streaming rights deals as part of several recent team negotiations — deals that would take effect only when RSNs and MLBAM finally strike a local streaming deal.

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