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MLB’s deal with Apple further displays the league’s disregard for its fans

Why make it easier to watch games when you can make it harder?

MLB Owners Meetings Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Common sense dictates that it’s smart for a business to cater to its customers. Appealing to and garnering as many consumers as possible is essential for a business’s growth and sustainability. This simple logic is basic, common knowledge. Acting inversely would be fairly erroneous.

Except if you’re Major League Baseball, it seems.

On Tuesday, the league and Apple announced a streaming deal that will feature a pair of Friday night games each week beginning in 2022, with both streaming on Apple TV+ exclusively. That means no Todd Kalas, Geoff Blum and Julia Morales on AT&T SportsNet for Astros fans when the club’s Friday contests are streamed on Apple’s subscription streaming service.

The financial details of the agreement are unknown but it will ostensibly generate significant revenue for MLB, which is in dire need of money, apparently.

Putting aside that asinine notion, as well as ignoring the fact that the league’s continued lockout jeopardizes those very games that would be streamed on Apple TV+, this deal is just another instance of MLB saying, “Screw you, we don’t care about you, just our bottom lines” to the game’s fans, the people who fund their lucrative, multi-billion dollar business.

The league’s apathy toward fan accessibility is well known — their blackouts are the most restrictive in pro sports. Now putting multiple games each week behind what is effectively a paywall may as well be doubling down. Of course, this is not the intent, according to MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden: “We’re prioritizing reach — we need to reach our next generation of fans and people that find themselves outside of the bundle. That is the most important aspect of this deal.” (Courtesy of Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand.)

Cutting through the corporate speak, money is the most important aspect of this deal, because that’s what MLB and its 30 owners care about far more than anything else, as evidenced by their actions over the last three months. It’s telling that only now, more than a week into March, have they begun to get serious in labor negotiations. The level of compromise entailed in last night’s proposal to the players could have already resulted in an agreement had it been submitted several weeks ago. But I suppose trying to break the union was just too much fun for the owners to pass up.

Rob Manfred announced last week that the first two series of the regular season have been canceled, and it’s possible that he’ll soon make a similar proclamation regarding the two subsequent series — which would axe the second week of games — if a deal is not reached by Wednesday afternoon.

The timing of MLB and Apple’s partnership is highly peculiar considering the status quo — not only is the 2022 season itself threatened by the lockout, but landing a substantial TV deal amid labor negotiations could irk the players to some degree, especially while the league continues to laughably claim that their industry isn’t incredibly robust.

But it all aligns with MLB’s cavalier attitude. Not just in regard to the lockout and the subsequent bad-faith tactics employed during many weeks of negotiations with the PA, but also with respect to plain customer service.

It should be a painless experience for fans to find a way to watch their favorite teams — should being the operative word. For too many, however, accessibility can be a frustratingly complicated ordeal — just ask people who live in Iowa.

When the new season eventually gets underway, fans who watch games via regional sports networks will discover that Apple’s “Friday Night Baseball” will prevent them from tuning in on certain Fridays — unless they pay.

The league and owners are privileged to be the stewards of one of the world’s foremost sports, but they largely — if not entirely — view it through a crude business lens. Instead of trying to optimize its product that is more than just a game to millions of people, the sole focus is and has been maximizing profits, whatever the cost.