Commissioner Rob Manfred: MLB knows fans in local markets need better streaming options

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It’s hard to quantify the number of Royals fans who have cut the cord in recent years, but they are certainly a vocal group.

Those fans switched to YouTubeTV, Hulu or Sling TV to watch Royals games, only to see those options disappear because of a dispute over fees with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns Bally Sports Kansas City.

At the start of this season, Royals fans had just one streaming option: DirecTV Stream, which costs $89.99 a month and offers many other channels.

In the summer, Bally Sports+ launched, providing fans with another streaming choice. But fans balked because of the cost ($19.99 a month), glitches on Bally Sports Kansas City and the lack of availability in other states.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is aware of the frustration of Royals fans, even if he didn’t say it directly.

During an interview last month with Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo on SiriusXM before the start of the World Series, Manfred addressed the concerns of fans everywhere who can’t watch the favorite team’s games.

Manfred was asked if there is something the average fan doesn’t know Major League Baseball needs to be fixed.

“Oh, I think the biggest single thing on our docket now that fans are not focused on is the reach in our local markets,” Manfred said. “With the erosion of the cable bundle we’re not in as many homes as we need to be in. We need to develop a digital alternative, a streaming alternative that is available in-market. Obviously we’ve had the out-of-market package (MLB TV). We were the first real over-the-top product.

“We need a similar product in our local markets because so many people have opted out of cable, they’re not getting baseball. It’s crucial.”

Before Bally Sports+ was rolled out, Manfred told the Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan last year MLB didn’t want to have an equity share in Sinclair’s streaming service. It wanted to own it.

“And we want to own and control the platform on which they’re delivered and may have partners in that process,” Manfred told Kaplan. “But you know, this idea that late in the discussions, you know, we somehow demanded an equity stake. That’s just not accurate.”

Major League Baseball began streaming a handful of games on new platforms this year: Peacock and Apple+. It also continued showing a game once a week on YouTube.

Manfred was asked about the deals with Apple and Peacock, and he said part of the reason was giving fans without cable an opportunity to watch games.

“We did it for the future. I don’t think we would’ve done the deals with either Peacock and Apple and I don’t think they would’ve done the deals with us if it was just about what we did this year,” Manfred said. “It’s about a look to the future, finding an alternative way to deliver games on a widespread basis to fans who are outside the cable bundle.”

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