Dishing It Out

Going to Idaho on vacation is a lot like finding a time machine that only goes to the past. There are definitely times where I feel like I have been transported into an episode of the Flintstones. Idaho is one of those places where you have both a love affair with the beauty of the surroundings with crystal clear streams, mountain meadows, and breath-taking views and a hatred at the backwardness of technology with inconsistent phone service, lack of broadband internet infrastructure, and no high definition television (what am I saying, you can barely get standard definition television). To give you an idea of what we are dealing with let me give you an example. Bone Idaho where ground squirrels outnumber the residents about 20-1 made the news recently when it became one of the last organized towns in the United States to receive phone service. So while the rest of the world is busy building the infrastructure to the information superhighway, these people are getting excited that they now have a way to communicate over a copper wire with people outside the hills they call home.

It is sometimes good to get off the grid so to speak and let technology bypass you and give you an opportunity to clear your head of the information overload that sometimes occurs when we are “connected” so to speak. It is quite another to live your life that way day in and day out without ever knowing what lies beyond the ridge of the hill. At first I thought well the Diamondbacks are out of town I don’t really need to worry about things. I think that thought process was a result of altitude sickness. Just two days into my vacation and I was going crazy at the thoughts of not having a high speed internet connection or some sort of real-time communication mechanism so that I could check on the Diamondbacks box score. Broadband Internet was out of the question. Cable modems are a technology advancement that is as foreign as the designated hitter to these people. Cable television is still spoken about in the future tense for most of the residents. Considering that some places barely got phone service DSL capabilities are not yet available. With the ruggedness of the terrain I highly doubted that we would meet the criteria of being within a “day’s ride” of a telecommunications trunk line. With the surrounding hills and depth of the valleys cellular service was inconsistent to nonexistent. But the one thing they do have is satellite television.

If ever there were an area that was the poster child for satellite this would be it. Without satellite television these people would be completely cut off from the real world. When news spread about the Berlin wall coming down these people were completely confused. The residents without satellite had no idea Berlin Wyoming even had a wall. They were still up in arms that a rancher near Berlin had put up a barbed wire fence blocking free grazing. If I were to get any information about the Diamondbacks it would definitely have to be via satellite.

When Major League Baseball signed their television contract recently I only partially paid attention. After all I have DirecTV and the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package so I can see any game I want. Oh sure it is sometimes a hassle when games are blacked out but for the most part I can follow the teams that most interest me. I never really fully understood the concept of “out of market”. This vacation put that completely into perspective. Where we are staying we have access to Dish Network which is a competitor to DirecTV. During the negotiations with Major League Baseball, Dish Network found themselves and their subscribers on the outside looking in. MLB has provided more or less a monopoly for DirecTV and their Extra Innings package. It is possible to get some games via Dish Network but not all. The problems are many. First, due to the geographic location of Idaho and in particular southeastern Idaho, these people have been identified as Rocky Mountain. From a regional sports perspective this means that they can get Fox Sports Rocky Mountain as their only choice. So if they are willing to pay an additional $5.00 per month they have the opportunity to watch all of the Colorado Rockies games that they care to endure. There is no magical connection between Idaho and Colorado nor is there a big Rockies market in Idaho. In fact in the area surrounding Idaho Falls Idaho (which they claim happens to be the second largest city in Idaho with a population of 50,730) there are probably more Kansas City Royals fans than Colorado Rockies fans. This is due to the fact that the Royals Class-A Rookie affiliate plays in Idaho Falls. But are these fans able to watch the parent club of their affiliate to follow those players who came through Idaho Falls on their journey to the big leagues? No, instead they get the Colorado Rockies because Idaho is closer to Colorado than Missouri. That makes no sense and just adds to a fan’s perspective that Major League Baseball doesn’t care about how they treat the average fan. In my case I want to follow the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was willing to pay a fee and be locked in for 3 months of programming package with Dish Network so that I could watch the series with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. I can’t just order Fox Sports Arizona though. That would be too consumer friendly. First I have to purchase a programming package that includes Fox Sports Rocky Mountain since that is the region I am in. Even though I have no interest in the Colorado Rockies unless they are playing the Diamondbacks I don’t have a choice. Once I have Fox Sports Rocky Mountain I am then eligible to purchase the Dish Network “multi-sport” package that would include Fox Sports Arizona. This is an additional $5.99 per month above and beyond the $5.00 premium I would need to pay (the $5 is the price difference between their America Top 100 programming package and their America Top 100 Plus which the only difference is the regional sports station). So for a baseball fan wanting to follow their favorite team it would require an investment of $10.99 per month. That would only provide them with the games played on their regional sports network. For those games covered by the local station which in the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks would be KTVK Channel 3, an out of market fan would not receive those games.

Major League Baseball’s answer to this is their interactive web feed MLB.TV. This provides streaming video of your favorite team over the Internet for a mere $14.95 per month. This is $3.96 more per month than what Dish Network is charging. The plus side is that you would get all the games not just those on the Fox regional sports network. The negative is that it requires broadband Internet access which is not available in all areas. It is also highly compressed and lacking in quality compared to satellite television. You also need to put into perspective that the price for MLB.TV is $2.00 more than what satellite providers charge for their premium movie channels such as HBO, Showtime, Starz, or Cinemax. It is hard to fathom that it costs more to produce and broadcast a baseball game via the Internet than it does to license blockbuster movies from Hollywood. From an out of market fan’s perspective this gives the impression that Major League Baseball is more concerned about padding their wallet than they are of providing a viable alternative to fans who do not live near the teams that they support. For me it means following my favorite team through the local newspaper and watching for brief highlights in the sports coverage where baseball ranks lower than bull riding and the upcoming hot dog eating contest in New Jersey. This is a very sad way to treat baseball fans.

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