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Bryce Harper: ‘Blackouts are killing the game’

Bryce Harper spoke extensively last week on The Starting 9 Podcast about his ideas for growing the game of baseball. Harper is arguably the most marketable player in the league, so his thoughts on the issue matter deeply. His ambitious idea to send major league players to the Olympics in Tokyo sparked plenty of conversation around the sports world but something else he mentioned is not getting nearly as much attention: blackout restrictions.

Bryce Harper has an array of opinions on how baseball can be better at marketing the sport. (Cheryl Pursell)

Harper is a harsh critic of Major League Baseball’s blackout policies.

“I think blackouts are killing the game,” Harper told Dallas Braden and Jared Carrabis. “It’s horrible to me that sitting in Las Vegas, I can’t watch a Dodger game on TV.”

Blackout policies are in reference to MLB blocking MLB.TV users from streaming live games involving teams located within the corresponding television market the subscriber currently lives in. If you live in Philadelphia, you cannot watch Phillies games on MLB.TV. Instead, you have to pay for a cable package that includes NBC Sports Philadelphia. If the Phillies were playing on both ESPN and NBC Sports Philadelphia one day, you could not get by with a cheaper streaming service that carries ESPN but not NBC Sports Philadelphia because the national broadcast is blacked out in NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s television market. All of this means that you have to buy a cable package to watch Phillies baseball legally.

Harper lives in one of the worst-hit areas when it comes to blackout restrictions. Baseball fans in Las Vegas cannot stream live games involving the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics.

“And that’s a problem,” Harper said. “That’s a big problem because you talk about exploring and trying to grow certain aspects of the game, you have to be able to do that. You want to be able to have people be able to watch whatever team they want in any place. (NFL) Sunday Ticket? I can watch every single game I want. Would you not want to be able to turn on the TV and go ‘hey, boom I’m going to watch every single game I want?’

“If you’re sitting there and you buy your MLB package, you’re not necessarily getting every single game. You’re sitting there going, ‘I can’t watch Clayton Kershaw pitch tonight or I can’t watch anybody play at any time that I want because I don’t get that game.'”

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As the average age of MLB fans increases, it becomes more important than ever to engage kids in their formative years. Harper believes it starts with making sure kids can watch the games.

“I think that’s the biggest problem with growing the game because what do kids do?” Harper said. “They run the iPad. They run the TV. They want to watch the best players play. They don’t have to go to the games to get there. What about the kids that can’t afford that either? Throw it on to the freakin’ screen and let them watch the games. That’s going to grow the game to the place where it needs to be.”

Harper now joins the growing list of MLB players who are critical of MLB’s blackout restrictions. Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer expressed his frustration on YouTube while Harper’s teammate Didi Gregorius suggested that getting rid of blackout restrictions was a better way to grow the game than expanding the playoff field. Ironically, the postseason proposal leaked in February by Joel Sherman of the New York Post Bauer and Gregorius reacted to has reportedly been included in MLB’s plan for the 2020 season.

One of the many things the two-hour-long The Starting 9 Podcast appearance taught us about Harper is the fact that he has an array of opinions on the best way to market the sport. Whether commissioner Rob Manfred is willing to listen to one of the game’s most important stars remains to be seen.


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