Blue Jays Streaming: So much for a growing fan base

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 14: Fans cheer at the end of a Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 14: Fans cheer at the end of a Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

On Saturday it was announced that Blue Jays games would be blacked out from MLB.TV, and “business” is getting in the way of a growing fan base.

If you were on Twitter at all yesterday, there’s a pretty good chance you saw several Blue Jays fans complaining, including yours truly. Thankfully, the vitriol wasn’t directed at the team, but rather toward a streaming service called MLB.TV, and also at Blue Jays’ ownership.

I was one of what I presume would be thousands of subscribers across Canada to get a frustrating email on the day before the Blue Jays play their first game of Spring Training. At a time when excitement should be building for the season ahead, we were told that MLB.TV will be restricting the viewing of Blue Jays games for the 2020 season, and as a result they will all be blacked out in Canada. As a result, the only way to stream Blue Jays games next season is through Sportsnet Now, the streaming service offered by Rogers Media.

I just have one question: Why?

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I mean, without knowing the ins and outs of how everything came to pass, it’s not too hard to put it together. Clearly Rogers wanted the exclusive rights to their own content, and as the owner of the Blue Jays they do have that right I suppose. At this point we’re left to assume that either Rogers wanted out of the MLB.TV deal altogether, or they didn’t get the type of contract they were seeking going forward. Whatever happened, the partnership with an alternative streaming service is over.

The problem is, as a result there will be less fans tuning in to Blue Jays games this year, and that’s not only a shame, I don’t understand how it’s good business in the long-term. Sure, there was likely an influx of new subscribers to Sportsnet’s streaming service, and I’ll reluctantly and begrudgingly sign up at some point as well, but I’m not happy about it and I know I’m not alone. I also know that there are some folks who will simply pass on streaming baseball this year instead.

I understand that ownership wants to see more fans at the ballpark as well, but that’s not an option for everyone. Some folks simply can’t afford to head to the Rogers Centre very often, or at all, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less interested in the team. There’s also the fact that the Blue Jays are Canada’s only team, and well, uh, it’s a pretty big country. I saw many complaints from fans in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and elsewhere, all wondering how being 3000-4000 kilometres away landed them in the blackout zone. On the prairies, the Colorado Rockies are half the distance of what a trip to Toronto would be. For those in BC, it’s a quick trip across the border to Seattle, but they can still stream Mariners games.

In my own world, I’m also not thrilled that I lost the ability to watch the rest of the games going on in a given night, without paying a far more premium price, of course. It was a common occurrence for me to flip to a West Coast game after the Blue Jays were through for the evening, or to watch another team on their off days. My interest in the rest of the league grew even more, as I’m sure was the case for many other fans doing the same. Even if I sign up for Rogers’ alternative, I won’t be able to tune in to watch Mike Trout for a few at-bats anymore, and I’ll miss that.

But what bothers me the most about all of this is the effect it could have on the fan base. Baseball was revitalized in Canada in a big way when the Blue Jays made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, and this whole thing could be an oddly significant step back. I understand that the team hasn’t been all that great for the last three years and a lot of that interest has waned, but this group is on the cusp of another competitive era of Blue Jays baseball. Filling up the bandwagon as much as possible should be the priority, and they have the marketable young stars to set that foundation this year.

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I realize that this news only affects Canadian baseball fans, and specially those of us who root for the Blue Jays, but there a lot us in that category. After a nightmare off-season for baseball with the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and the subsequent bumbling by the league office, not to mention attendance numbers going down around the game in recent years, this feels like a time when ownership should be trying to win over as many fans as possible. Unfortunately, Friday’s announcement works in the opposite direction.