Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Urge to kill fading . . .

. . . fading . . . fading . . . RISING . . . fading . . . (almost) gone.

Last night, I was a little bit miffed that the Nats-Braves game was blacked out on Comcast cable in Richmond. To review, this was a blackout of the TBS broadcast---because, of course, we don't get any of that UPN-20/MASN stuff to begin with. Sure enough, in this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch, there's a blurb by the paper's media writer that essentially says:

"Huh. That was strange, eh? Well, expect more of that when the Braves & Nats play; territorial rights and all. Comcast didn't return my calls, but what can you do? Oh yeah, DirecTV subscribers? You're screwed, too."

I've calmed down a bit, so I'll look at the issue for a sec and see if I can do it rationally. I'm no sports media expert, keep in mind. (There's some Holiday Inn Express-type guys on the Ballpark Guys board, so maybe they can help.)

1) This never used to happen in Richmond until now, which strikes me as evidence (more evidence, that is) that Angelos's claims of solid territorial rights ownership weren't so solid. It seems to me that the arrival of the Nats served to tighten up territorial issues here and in other mid-markets south of DC. If we in Richmond are part of the new MASN territory, that's fine; if stations in Richmond don't or can't carry the MASN-produced broadcasts right now, that's fine too, I suppose; if the UPN station in the District is a bit hesitant about the baseball stuff, then just imagine the UPN station in Richmond. However . . .

2) I'll be interested to see how all this affects the Comcast Sports Net broadcasts of the Orioles in the Richmond area. The CcSn O's broadcasts, as I understand it, are not part of the MASN deal. Will they be blacked out? If not, isn't this a bit inequitable? Now, we're really talking about a de minimis effect, probably; a quick perusal of the A-Braves' schedule shows only one game---Sunday, June 26---where the O's and Braves will broadcast on TBS. (The other two games are set to be on "TBS-X"---whatever that is---and FOX national.) If that Sunday afternoon game is on both TBS and Comcast SportsNet here, I won't know what to say.

3) What really, really doesn't make sense is to view the situation from the perspective of Braves fans. Obviously, I understand that MLB's grubby little paws have long-established the practice of splitting up the country into television fiefdoms. (This practice apparently doesn't extend to radio, because the Skip & Co. were loud and clear on a station in Richmond last night.) Nevertheless, doesn't it seem like a gesture of goodwill to exempt a Triple-A market of the opposing team from being blacked out? Put it this way: Braves' caps win the "hat test" around here. There's some Yanks, some Sox, a growing number of Nats, a few O's---but the Braves win. This has been Atlanta's Triple-A market since 1966; there are a lot of Braves fans here. And, now---even after subtracting the "TBS-X" stuff---they'll be shut out of, what, 9-10 TBS broadcasts a year? Worse yet, if you got a dish just to be able to see all of Atlanta's games on TV, then you've just lost something like 18 broadcasts. Whoops!

4) One more thing, and it's a late inclusion: This might be a Comcast thing, not necesarily an MLB edict.

But apparently, it also has to do with the cable system. A caller on Big Al's [ed: local radio ingrate] show this morning said Adelphia cable in Hopewell carried the game, and the article notes that a call to Comcast on this matter was not returned.Comcast - if you remember the snit they had with FOX HD about the Super Bowl - is playing hardball for a contract deal for more bucks while the consumer gets the shaft - and continues to pay more and more for less and less. Lame.

---Speaking of Richmond, Thom Loverro thinks it would be swell if the Nats put their Triple-A team here. Well, yeah. I agree, Thom, if only for purely selfish reasons.

Loverro points out the obvious benefit of placing your top minor league affiliate in close proximity to the big league team; he also alludes to an obvious desire to establish a presence outside of the District/NoVa/Md. suburban area. That sounds good.

Then again, Loverro also recognizes that there's no rule that dictates a team must send its rehabilitating players to Triple-A, and---like the Orioles---the Nationals could farm out the rehab assignments to Double-A Harrisburg (pretty close) and A-ball Potomac (spitting distance).

Well, as William World News points out, while it would make sense for Richmond to become the Triple-A home of the Nats, the drawback is that it would make sense. Indeed, as noted by District of Baseball, the A-Braves own the R-Braves. It's not a normal arrangement these days, but it's an arrangement the Atlanta bean-counters prefer. Consequently, it is not as easy as what usually occurs, which is a game of musical chairs once affiliate contracts expire.

So, the A-Braves would have to say, "Okay, enough with you guys in Richmond and your ballpark obstructionist mayor." Only if that happened would the opportunity present itself for the Nats to move in.

But let's not kid ourselves.

A major league team is a major league team, Atlanta or otherwise. By the time action could be taken (Atlanta's lease at Richmond's current ballpark, The Diamond, runs through 2006), real owners (hopefully!) will be in place and in charge for the Nats. While it will be a great day when the Nats land a real, non-Seligulan owner, let's call a pig a pig: whoever the ownership group will be, you can be certain that---like the owners of every big-league team---it will be comprised of greedy bastards. As the definitive Richmond blog points out:

I'm beginning to think Mayor Wilder does not want the Braves to stay here and could care less if they go. That's a shame. . . . Planning on getting another team to fill the void is a bad idea that just allows us to ignore the problems on the table with infrastructure or the Diamond. No team is moving without a new stadium, and no one in the two months this has been on the table has stepped up and proposed anything else for Shockoe Bottom. There are a lot of ideas for what shouldn't happen but none for what should.

In other words, now that the A-Braves have pushed the issue, it is a strong possibility that Richmond won't continue to be a Triple-A city, no matter the parent club, until it builds a new park. And, while Mayor Wilder seems to have problems with the Braves in particular (and for that, I cannot blame him), Wilder's jurisdiction is not the only one with a say. The current proposed project (allegedly) is almost entirely privately-funded; future ones might not be, and the surrounding counties would have to chip in. At least one of them---mine, Chesterfield---has expressed little desire to that end.

But enough inside baseball; if you don't live in Richmond, you probably don't care.

So, I'll close with a reference to more universal concerns, such as fan loyalty and attachment. While I'd love to see the Nats occupy Richmond (I propose the "Richmond Justices" as the team name, in honor of John Marshall), look, there are a lot of people here who don't necessarily even care about the Atlanta Braves but who do care immensely about the Richmond Braves. In fact, I do. If the Richmond Braves no longer existed, it would be a very weird thing.

My understanding of the agreement is that Comcast games would not be blacked out. The settlement with Petey said everything from the Carolinas to Philly is shared territory. We have two home teams.

When they're playing the White Sox on WGN, the games should be blacked out too. We'll find out if they've figured that out though.

Regardless, what an effed up system! I thought the NFL Blackout rules were screwy... at least there were SOME games you could watch!
Yep. A co-worker asked me about it today. He wanted to know if it had to do with attendance. (Did you see the attendance last night, btw? 16K? What is that, Baltimore?)

I said, "No. But at least attendance sort of makes sense, in a way."
We're definitely on pace to be the lowest attended road team in baseball! That's on the heels of 14K and 18K in Philly.

Of course the way they're playing I might not even want to watch them! :P
I wonder how MLB.tv fits into all this?
Good question, Tom G. It's been resolved that my 56K connection can't handle the cheese, so it'll be up to others to experiment.
Late to the party, but MLB announced that they've lifted the blackout for MLBtv for the area.

I'm not sure if that's for the full year, or what.
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