Last week, Major League Baseball unveiled a new application for iPhones that enabled users to watch baseball games on their phones. That's a great step for technology, but a limited one because of blackouts that mean you can't follow the action of local teams. The Yankees became the first team to step around those restrictions on Wednesday when they announced a deal that provides in-market streaming.
It's only available to Cablevision customers at the moment, and will cost $49.95 for the remainder of the season. You can't just buy the package, however. You have to be an existing customer who gets cable and internet service via Cablevision in order to spend more money for the games broadcast on YES. And it only works in the local television area, so you'd still need to buy Major League Baseball's web package in order to watch games if you travel outside the New York area.
It would seem to make a lot more sense to buy a Slingbox and just watch the games via that device instead of paying even more to Cablevision for the chance to watch Yankee games on your computer, especially since you'd be able to actually watch the games if you went to visit the folks in Florida for a weekend. Unless you're really into making sure the Yankees, Knicks and Rangers all benefit from your viewing habits.
Those are pretty severe drawbacks, but they point to the real reason why television blackouts have continued this far into the television age. It is no longer about keeping up ticket sales at home games, but about making sure people continue to pay for cable TV in an age when it is easy to find many TV shows and sporting events via the internet.
The relationship between sports leagues and cable companies is understandable, but it is hard to see how this is really the best way to serve the needs of the consumer. It's never easy to serve many masters, but MLB continually makes it clear which one takes priority.