NESN gives Boston fans reason to believe the Sox are just as selfishly stupid as they’ve always suspected

March 19th, 2007 → 5:19 pm @ // No Comments

I’m far from the only person who finds baseball’s exclusive deal with DirectTV to be, frankly, offensive. (The recent quasi-compromise is a complete smokescreen.) MLB has officially gotten itself in the business of forcing consumers to choose between two competing distribution channels. This is an effort to make a lot of money, yes, but it’s also an effort to bring more consumers to, which shows the Selig’s deputies don’t have the best grasp of their audiences viewing habits. The DirectTV deal not only pisses me — and you, and everybody else who currently has cable — off, it’s yet another example of baseball’s time-honored tendency to win the battle and lose the war. As John Henry told me in Feeding the Monster, baseball isn’t just competing with football and basketball and hockey for people’s attention, it’s competing with The Departed and the new Halo and YouTube and every other of the million entertainment options out there. And when you take away the opportunity for people to spend more time watching baseball, you’re simultaneously giving them more time to enjoy some other form of entertainment. The web has long prized the notion of “stickiness” — how much time a user spends on any given site. That’s an increasingly important metric across all entertainment options. Baseball is losing out on a chance to stick itself to me. And if I can’t watch the three weekday games and get to know the players and heighten my involvement with my team of choice, my overall connection to MLB is going to lessen. What’s more, online TV still has a long way to go, and MLB’s audience isn’t all that likely to sit in front of their computers for poor picture quality and choppy feeds. So, sure, baseball is making some money now, but it’s not going to accomplish one of its main goals — getting viewers to migrate over to — and it sure could end up making fans feel less connected over time.

But so what, right? It’s not like this story is just breaking. But another one is, a story in which NESN is showing it has internalized MLB’s battle/war valuation all too well. According to an article in today’s Herald, NESN (which the Sox own 80% of) will no longer permit local stations to air highlights while a game is still in progress. Think about that. You’re watching American Idol and at the tail end of an ad break, there’s a teaser for that night’s newscast. But now you won’t get, “Papi hits another two homers as the Sox face off with the Jays; full report at 11.” (Or at least you won’t get a video clip to further draw you in.) That means you’ll see less of those teasers. That means fewer people are likely to stay up and watch the sports highlights. And that means fewer people are going to realize in the middle of the game that, hot damn, they’d rather watch Ortiz crank some into the bleachers than be bored by Paula and Simon bitching at each other. And that means it’s likely that NESN’s boneheaded move with actually translate into fewer people tuning in to the team’s broadcasts. (Can you imagine another TV network actually telling its competition that they were not allowed to run what amounts to free ads in the middle of the programming? Neither can I.)

As the Herald notes, this move could very well be an antecedent to the day when NESN only allows local stations to air highlights if they license — i.e., pay for — them. If that’s indeed true, I’d expect there to be a helluva fight. There are plenty of implications here, not the least of which is U.S. copyright law’s fair use doctrine, which states that the use of copyrighted material for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting…is not an infringement of copyright.” Two of the four considerations the law lists as factors in this type of fair use are “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation” to the work as a whole and “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” There’s not a chance in hell that the Sox will ever be able to argue that a minute or two of highlights are a substantial amount of the entire game or that watching the evening news somehow threatens NESN’s ability to benefit from its copyright. (In fact, I’m surprised none of the local stations have brought this up in relation to the use of clips that are aired while the game is still being played…but that could be because promotional ads (“news at 11…”) are, by definition, commercial in nature, while the newscasts themselves would certainly count as “news reporting.”)

I usually defend the Sox when they’re accused to trying to soak every last penny from their franchise; after all, I’d be thrilled if the team sells a million more Red Sox Nation memberships if that translates into more money for the team’s baseball operations. But this feels like one toke over the line. And it feels remarkably stupid as well.

(I’m not a big believe in the cabal — sorry, Tony — but it is interesting that this story doesn’t seem to be on the Globe‘s Red Sox homepage. The Globe, of course, is owned by The New York Times Co., which also happens to be the largest minority owner of the Sox. Or, to simplify things: the Times Company makes lots of money off of NESN.)

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Broadcasting & Cable & & NESN & New York Times

8 Comments → “NESN gives Boston fans reason to believe the Sox are just as selfishly stupid as they’ve always suspected”

  1. focal12

    17 years ago

    Regarding the MLB-Direct TV deal, did anyone alse catch the article on page 3 of the latest issue of Baseball America? It describes the purchase of the Braves by Liberty Entertainment, which also recently bought 38% of Direct TV and 100% of the Fox Sportsnet channels in Pittsburgh, Seattle, & Denver…which also conveniently carry the MLB packsge. This deal has the treacherous slime of corporate lawyers all over it; covering their bases legally while not caring at all for the people who pay their bloasted salaries (us).


  2. johnw

    17 years ago

    This boneheaded move by NESN harkens back to the bad old days when the Lords of Baseball were extremely slow to embrace game broadcasts — believing that fans would stop buying tickets if they could see (or hear) the games for free. It took them decades to realize that exposure is inherently good: exposure means higher brand recognition which means more fans and more ticket sales, not to mention hats, jerseys, bobblehead dolls, and stuffed Wallys. Baseball has prospered in the era of almost omnipresent game broadcasts.

    So now NESN (and I assume Sox management) wants to virtually erase the team from non-NESN local TV? They don’t want anybody showing Big Papi hitting home runs, Mike Lowell stabbing a line drive, or Jonathan Papelbon striking out the side? They don’t want Bob Lobel and friends talking up the expensive accomplishments of Dice-K?

    Greed, I expect from the Sox hierarchy. Stupidity, I don’t. This move is stunning in its shortsightedness.

  3. […] The Feeding the Monster Blog — In which the author discusses Boston, the Red Sox, the media, and very occasionally popular music. » NESN gives Boston fans reason to believe the Sox are just as selfishly stupid as they’ve always suspected “I usually defend the Sox when they’re accused to trying to soak every last penny from their franchise…But this feels like one toke over the line. And it feels remarkably stupid as well.” – +1 (tags: SethMnookin RedSox NESN fairuse local TV) […]


  4. jdreid

    17 years ago

    Another example of MLB grossly misunderstanding newer media and how it can help them:

    Last year I excitedly posted my first video to YouTube, a 4 minute piece I put together on Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. I was lucky enough to be there and had a small video camera that captured, from the bleachers, both the Roberts steal and Big Papi’s home run. At the time there were dozens of other such videos, but I was very proud of my baby, which quickly collected several thousand views and many comments. About a month later, I was served notice that it was taken down due to a copyright complaint by MLB.

    Of course I was in violation of my ticket license, and they were within their right to complain and have the video removed (as other videos were). But what harm did my shaky movie, which mostly captured fan reaction to the moments, cause to their product? Did they not sell a 500,000th copy of the 2004 WS DVD because someone could watch a few fan videos on YouTube? Will someone not buy a playoff ticket and wait for the highlights on YouTube? With low resolution and a 10 minute limit, YouTube videos shot in a park offer no viable alternative to watching a game online or on TV. All these videos of walkoff home runs do (I saw some great ones from the Tigers’ playoffs last year) is sell the experience of being at a great game. It’s grassroots marketing! Some companies would pay for it!


  5. Trouthead

    17 years ago

    MLB and Bud do not understand baseball fans. I’ve had the MLB EI package for 2 years. I watch most Red Sox games, a few Yankee games, and zero KC, TB, or Seattle games. The fact that they want me to buy the whole package is ridiculous. Now I can’t even buy the package without changing from DISH to Direct TV. Give me NESN and nothing else and I’d be happy.


  6. dbvader

    17 years ago

    Copyright law makes it that copyright holders have to protect their property in order not to lose the protection of the law. A party can defend itself from copyright infringement by showing that the material at issue had been republished in violation of the original copyright without any attempt by the holder to restrict the publication. MLB cannot select which violations of its copyrights it will allow and which it will prosecute without the possibility it will lose its copyright.


  7. Realchili

    17 years ago

    I’m a transplant from CT and now live in Milwaukee (pretty close to Bud, actually) and have cable. I have my phone, internet also through cable, and really have no interest in switching to directv, and I know my wife has no interest in a dish on our house. I honestly feel completely screwed over by the directv deal.

    Assuming Time Warner doesn’t match the directv deal, which seems like a safe assumption, what are my options? I’m not crazy about looking at a computer screen any more than I already do, and with the time difference I wouldn’t typically get home until well into most games anyway. I have young kids, its summer with nice, long evenings, and really EI with dvr/tivo was ideal. I honestly feel like I have no legitimate means of watching the Sox, other than the occasional ESPN game. What’s actually a little funny is that through osmosis I’ve gotten my neighbor’s kids hooked on the Sox, to the point that the families are making a trip out to Fenway this summer. Those kids would lap it up if they could wander over and watch Boston anytime they wanted.

    So, any suggestions? I figure they just gave me every reason not to follow the Sox this year, and learn to live without watching nearly as much baseball. While I like the Brewers, I’m not going to turn into a huge fan and watch 120 games. I suppose I should extend my family’s thanks next time I see Bud wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood.


  8. MTMoore

    17 years ago

    Seth; You hit a few nails on the head with this entry. “There’s too much product out there” Selig has blown everyone off by stating only 5000 cannot have a dish, all others are deemed too stubborn to switch. Discounted are retirees (many of our dads) & transients living in apts. & condos, anyone situated in hilly terrain or in a valley where buildings & trees block signals. Altho’ we live in a condo I would not switch the DTV out of principle — besides I like Comcast’s On Demand feature too much to give it up. What will happen when the expected subscribers don’t materialize? I’ll predict DTV will raise package rates in 2008 to make up for their “misunderestimation”. With a monopoly they can raise the costs as high as they want to recoup losses.

    iNDemand advertises the E.I. package as “follow your fave team or player”. Perhaps foolishly, Selig believes baseball fans will adopt their new home team, that is Red Sox & Yank fans living in FL will switch allegiences to the Rays. Perhaps he thinks it will help fill seats in poorly attended games or perhaps he’s just an asshole. Selig singled out Red Sox fans as the ones stirring the pot, making it sound as though we’re the only ones complaining.

    Remember last playoff season MLB spent $$ running commercials with the theme “just because your team isn’t in the playoffs doesn’t mean you shoudn’t watch.” Extra Innings helped garner said viewers, without E.I. fans may answer “I don’t know the teams, so who cares?”


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