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Major League Baseball will broadcast Diamondbacks games beginning Tuesday night in Atlanta, according to a league press release.
Changes to the team’s television arrangement have seemed likely ever since Diamond Sports Group, the entity that operates Bally Sports Arizona, declared bankruptcy in mid-March.
On Tuesday morning, bankruptcy court judge Chris Lopez ruled in favor of Diamond Sports Group rejecting the remainder of its contract with the Diamondbacks, according to Eric Fisher of Front Office Sports. The decision brings an end to the reported 20-year, $1.5 billion TV deal the D-backs inked with then-FOX Sports Networks in 2015.
Fans will still have the option to watch Diamondbacks games on cable and streaming platforms, although channels could be different. The league provided the following graphic as an aid:
As a result of the arrangement, in-market fans can also sign up for a direct-to-consumer service through MLB that gives access to Diamondbacks games for $19.99 per month, or $54.99 for the rest of the year.
“This decision provides us with an opportunity to partner with Major League Baseball to produce high quality broadcasts of D-backs games on current platforms, expand access to include streaming options and remove local blackouts that have been a fan frustration point for years,” Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall said.
To ease the transition, the league is also making games available for free through July 23 on MLB.com and Dbacks.com.
Let’s dive into some of the big questions surrounding the news.
Are blackouts really over?
According to MLB’s press release, the answer is yes. The headline, in fact, reads as follows: “New arrangement increases reach by 4.7 million homes and removes blackouts in Diamondbacks territory.”
On the surface, that looks great. Previously, it was impossible to watch in-market Diamondbacks games on MLB’s streaming platform, MLB.tv. That is no longer the case.
However, it is important to note that current subscribers of MLB.tv still will not have access to in-market games. They will need to purchase the aforementioned additional package to get in-market access.
In that sense, not much has changed. MLB.tv subscribers living in blackout-restricted areas will still be blacked out. If they are unwilling to pay extra fees to watch in-market games, they still will not be able to watch them. If they are willing to pay extra fees, they would simply be paying MLB directly now rather than a cable provider or streaming service.
There is one crucial difference, though: the cost. Cable and streaming services that carry D-backs games generally run upward of $100 per month — five times the cost of MLB’s direct-to-consumer streaming package.
All this is to say: The new TV arrangement does not end blackouts in the purest sense. However, it does allow fans to watch games directly on MLB.tv via a new subscription service, and that service is significantly more affordable than the third-party subscriptions that have been required in the past.
For folks hoping to see the end of blackouts, this is probably the best possible outcome. The idea of MLB.tv suddenly including in-market games without some sort of price uptick is nice in theory, but out of touch with how MLB teams make money. In-market TV rights are a crucial revenue stream, especially for the Diamondbacks.
Where do the Diamondbacks go from here?
Major League Baseball is stepping in to broadcast Diamondbacks games for now, but it appears that the team’s long-term TV situation is still unsettled.
“Now, we get to figure out what we want to do,” Hall told Wolf & Luke on Tuesday. “It’s a clean slate. We’ll talk to MLB, we’ll talk to other possible partners, we’ll talk to over-the-air partners. We’ve had a lot of interest as you can imagine.”
Hall floated the idea of incorporating additional partners alongside MLB next season to make the product available to a wider audience.
“What’s important to me is to make sure we can have more viewership than ever before, cover more territory than ever before,” he said.
Will Diamondbacks broadcasts look different?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no.
Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly have always been employed by the Diamondbacks, not Bally Sports Arizona, and will continue to serve as the team’s primary TV broadcasters. Sideline reporter Jody Jackson, despite being employed by Bally Sports Arizona, has been retained by MLB.
According to Theo Mackie of the Arizona Republic, post-game hosts Brandon Webb and Mark Grace will continue to be involved as well.
The look of the broadcasts, however, will be quite different. Bally Sports Arizona branding will be replaced with MLB branding. Expect on-screen graphics to closely resemble those of MLB Network broadcasts, as was the case for the Padres:
The quality of the broadcast — camera quality, angles, etc. — is also expected to improve.
“Through the power of Major League Baseball and the Diamondbacks, we are working to elevate the game broadcast experience for all Diamondbacks fans,” said Billy Chambers, MLB Executive Vice President, Local Media. “As we have done with the Padres, we will apply new technology, deliver better picture quality and work towards increasing access to better tell the story of the Diamondbacks each and every night.”
Top photo: David Kadlubowski/The Republic