Blackouts, don’t you hate them? Look at the above image of the MLS Live playoff schedule. Blackouts pepper the screen. I’ve been trying to figure out the MLS algorithm for them. As a longtime NFL fan, most local games were (and are) blacked out on TV if the stadium failed to sell out for home games. For MLS, the formula seems to be: if a local cable network shows the game, then it gets blacked out on DirecTV and MLS Live. If NBC Sports Network shows the game, then an entire country gets the shaft. If ESPN shows a game, then there’s no MLS Live option.
Why? Well, in short, because MLS wants to get on the Cable TV gravy train while it can. However, there are a few problems.
First, I think MLS is late to the party. According to USA Today, 7.6 million Americans have left pay TV behind. Even HBO, for over a decade the driver and heavyweight of Cable TV, has announced a stand-alone streaming option. As a loyal MLS Live subscriber from years past, I loved how the channel was available online and also not bundled with channels I’d never watch. Ironically, MLS Live is jumping into the bundle as…..the bundle is un-bundling. In terms of mid-term and long-term strategy, it’s not a winner.
And here’s the second point: the blackouts will clearly cannibalize the MLS Live option. Case in point: me. I haven’t subscribed to MLS Live for a few years now and it’s simple – I want to watch every single Sporting KC game, but many of them are on ESPN or NBC and thus not included. Why pay for games I don’t care to watch? Why pay to see games I care for then get blacked out? Folks buy MLS Live to avoid local blackouts and often in lieu of cable. Also, the people who buy MLS Live are often cord-cutters (or cord-avoiders like me) – fans who don’t want a full cable package. Conversely, nobody is going to pay for a full cable package and then get MLS Live on top.
I haven’t owned an MLS Live subscription for a few years now. Granted, there are some hardcore MLS fans for whom any game or team will do. For those of us who are not hosts of the Best Soccer Show, though, I only want to see my hometown Sporting KC or a team near the top of the league, like a RSL or Seattle or even the LA Galaxy. In perhaps the greatest if ironies as compared to five years ago, I have a DishWorld Roku monthly subscription to catch La Liga but…..watched a pirated stream of the MLS Cup final (featuring Sporting KC).
How the tides have turned…..