MLB.Com Is Stupid


This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures


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I have been a Cubs fan my whole life.  I was given the disease by a neighbor when I was a little kid. He was a WW2 veteran named Bill Schultz.  Bill and his wife Dorothy didn’t have any kids.  I used to go over and they had candy all over the place so I would eat it and watch the Cubs with Bill.  Of course, in 1969 the Cubs broke our hearts.  Little did I know then that in 1986 I’d be working for Rich Nye who pitched for them.  Back in the day, everyone had an AM transistor radio and when you were doing stuff you’d have Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau on.  Introducing someone to become a Cubs fan was a special form of child abuse up until 2016.

An aside, my grandfather was a huge Minnesota Twins fan. 

we’d go fishing, he’d always bring a radio and listen to the the Twins on the lake.  I went to college with Kirby Puckett and used to steal his bat in the locker room.  He was a really nice guy and the day he got drafted all he said was if he didn’t make it he would try and get a gig helping kids.  He made the Hall of Fame.  The Twins are putting together a nice season this year.

One night I was at Bill’s house eating candy and watching the Cubs on the road.  WGN’s Jack Brickhouse at the mike on a black and white television.  Billy Williams was up at bat and the umpire was a person named Chris Pelekoudas.  Bill was really angry with Pelekoudas.  I never really ever saw him get mad at anything but he was sure ticked at the ump.  Pelekoudas used to take a while to call balls and strikes.  Bill shouted, “Look at that.  Williams keeps looking back at him.”  Little did I know that one of my best buds a few years later would be Pelekoudas’ nephew Dan.  In Dan’s basement was a Norman Rockwell print of the Cubs. Dan later played basketball at Michigan. He’s still a Cubs fan.

My father was always an American League guy.  Ted Williams, “Teddy Ballgame” “The Splendid Splinter”, was his favorite player and he spent high school in southwest Michigan where there were Tigers fans, Sox fans, and Cub fans.  But, mostly Detroit focused.  Detroit back in the late 40s and 50s was not like Detroit today.  As life went on, I was very fortunate to develop a friendship with the owners of the Cubs.  It’s so great they bought the team from that monolith Tribune Company.  Like every Cub fan, I was extremely happy when they won it all in 2016.  It’s still amazing to me.

In my Lincoln Park apartment, we don’t really have cable.  The problem was in my rehab, it was impossible to run cable from where it came into the building up to the front room of the apartment without putting it over the molding and running it up the walls and around doors. I could have drilled through many many joists, but that was really expensive and time-consuming.  I bought a couple of Roku televisions to solve the problem.  It bugs me because in my monthly HOA I have cable and internet costs built in.  Heck, we already pay too much in property taxes and they aren’t going down.

For almost all television programming, I don’t have an issue. If I can’t get it on Roku, I can stream via Apple TV or Chromecast.  CBS totally sucks.  I don’t know what sort of braintrust is running CBS but it’s pretty clear they are out of touch.  I solve that by opening a browser on my computer and streaming via Apple or Chromecast.  It’s how I watched the Masters and a lot of the NCAA Tournament.  Because of the many steps it takes to watch CBS, we never watch it unless it’s something huge like The Masters.  SEC football we stream through the browser, and it works fine.

Streaming is okay, but switching channels can be frustrating.  If you don’t keep the software in the television and the channels you downloaded up to date, you can have problems logging in.  The action on streaming television is always just a tad late.  If it’s a sporting event, you will see it on Twitter before you see it on your screen which can be bothersome.

Because of MLB and all the different media contracts, following the Cubs has become almost impossible.  I can’t stream the Cubs on good ole WGN when they play on WGN because WGN doesn’t have streaming.  WGN is worse than CBS and that’s saying something.  Can’t even use the browser so you just miss the game.  Can’t stream the Cubs radio broadcast ever through a device like Amazon Alexa because it is blacked out.

I received an email from MLB.com to buy MLB TV.  I am so frustrated trying to watch the Cubs on TV that I broke down and decided to buy it.  I tried to login to the account and of course couldn’t.  Changed my password several times but no luck.  Tried to do it on the Roku, no luck.  On the phone.  No luck.  On the iPad, no luck. I called MLB’s help line.  Once I went through the labyrinth of the automated choices, I finally got a nice person to chat with.  They told me that even if I bought the MLB TV package I still wouldn’t be able to watch the Cubs or listen to the local radio broadcast because they were blacked out.  The White Sox are blacked out too but who cares since no one even watches them anyway.  At least she was able to log me in.  Of course, as soon as I hung up the phone I was unable to login.

MLB.com might be the worst user experience of any pro league I have ever seen.  It’s one of the worst user experiences ever and that includes government websites.  It’s absolutely terrible.   The people that rate the site higher than one star must be in states that have legal pot or had a fat finger.

The rep also reminded me that if I didn’t log out of all my devices before I left Chicago for somewhere else when I travel, I still won’t be able to login and see the Cubs when I am on the road.

I will have to retry to figure out MLB on all my devices but I will probably have to find a Russian hacker to do it.

Two things crossed my mind.

I remember the old owner of the BlackHawks Bill Wirtz.  Wirtz threw nickels around like they were manhole covers.  He always blacked out home Hawks games in Chicago “so people would have a reason to come to the game”.  It hurt the BlackHawks because they didn’t develop a fan base.  When they went from making the playoffs every year to really stinking, no one went to games.  I recall being there with around 600 people once for a March game.  We were in the arena but watched the NCAAs on a television in a box because the action on the ice was so uninteresting.  When Old Man Wirtz died, his son Rocky took over.  He’s been a great owner, and 180 degrees different than his father.  First thing he did was lift the blackout rules.  Then he spent money on management and players and they won three Stanley Cups.  Boom they have a huge fan base that is loyal.  Going to a Hawks game is still a top ten sporting experience, even though you can watch it on television.  The National Anthem will send shivers up your spine.

The other is that pro sports ticket prices are getting astronomical.  If you want to get great seats at a game and take a family of four, you are better off selling off one and using the proceeds to buy three tickets.  Concessions aren’t cheap either.  I am not complaining. It’s the way things go.  Salaries are going up and the teams are trying to monetize everything they can.  But this is where it gets interesting.  As the all-in cost to go to a game increases, only people that can afford to go attend.  If you look at economic research and the way wealthy people value their time, they value it pretty highly.  That means, they don’t want to spend hours at a baseball or football game. The opportunity cost for them is too high.

If you think about that combined with the rapid rise of eSports, the value of a major league pro franchise might be a little rich today compared to what it will be in twenty years.  eSports is cheap, and you can play a round of games in a relatively short period of time.  Little boys aren’t playing games outside anymore.  They are plugging in and playing video games on their television screens.  Imagine them trying to navigate the MLB user experience.  I don’t see any of them doing it.

I told the MLB rep that they are making it impossible for me to follow the team I have followed for 50 years.  I hope she gives that feedback to her superiors but you know they won’t listen to her.  I never know which channel the Cubs are on, and have to constantly go back and forth trying to find them on whatever channel I can stream. I was going to have the cable company come out and help, but that’s $150 for something I already pay monthly for.  I tried to give MLB $50 and even pay the streaming tax in Chicago and I still was shut out since MLB blacks them out.

Major League Baseball is just backward when it comes to a lot of things.  They don’t let teams host parties for fans when they are on the road.  They clearly aren’t using social media very well and don’t monetize it.  They black out games. The parent organization tries to insert itself into everything.  I really don’t care about MLB, all I care about is the team I follow and their rivals.

On the other hand, Chicago Cubs Twitter and Facebook is a damn good follow.  Isn’t that the way it always is?  Centralized authority gets it wrong, decentralized authority gets it right.

I for one cannot wait for the Cubs to get their own network.  Hopefully, games won’t be blacked out and I will be able to stream them from anywhere.

My last resort is to go on Craigslist and get an old transistor radio.   I think this team has a chance to do something really special.