John Kerry is on the campaign trail again, not for our nation’s highest office – thank God – but on behalf of the many fans of major league baseball potentially disenfranchised by the loss of Major League Baseball’s Extra Inning’s Package. On March 8, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig agreed in principle to terms with the DirecTV satellite company, granting them exclusive rights over the popular Extra Innings Package, which allows fans to watch their favorite out-of-market or non-local teams.
America’s baseball faithful were outraged; by giving exclusive rights to DirecTV, the proposed deal would have prevented millions in our nation from following their favorite teams during the 162-game season. Normally, fans are only able to watch their local teams play on one of the non-cable networks, or through ESPN’s regional coverage. But with the Extra Innings Package, a die-hard Tampa Bay fan can watch his beloved Devil Rays duke it out with the fearsome Kansas City Royals, even if he lives in Oakland, Calif., Anchorage, Alaska or Bangor, Maine.
The deal between Commissioner Selig’s office and DirecTV gave Major League Baseball ’til the end of the March to negotiate with the iN Demand Cable Network, an affiliate of the Time Warner, Comcast and Cox companies. Almost immediately, thousands upon thousands of letters and calls from distressed fans across the country streamed into the Commissioner’s Office. John Kerry, a democratic Senator from Massachusetts and recent presidential hopeful, championed the cause, requesting that the FCC investigate the proposal.
“All we ever wanted was a victory for the fans,” Kerry said. “Everyone kept talking and pressing until we had a deal that protects the rights of most fans to follow their hometown team.” Although no consensus was reached by Saturday the 31st, the two sides stopped the clock and continued negotiations until late Wednesday night, when they finally reached new, more equitable terms.
Through the new deal, both iN Demand and DirecTV will have access to Extra Innings and will also carry MLB’s new TV network, anticipated to debut in 2009. Each company will own about 16 percent of the new channel with MLB controlling the remainder. This allows both subscribers of DirecTV and any of the many cable companies contracting through iN Demand to get access to Extra Innings. Originally, DirecTV would have received a 20 percent share, and cable subscribers would have been out of luck.
So often the “little man,” or average fan, appears as the hungry child with his nose pressed against the glass, watching as MLB rolls around in the ever increasing profits and revenue from the post-strike rebound and rising popularity in foreign countries. Players contract for bloated back-loaded salaries; corporate owners get larger suite boxes closer to the field, but the average American simply trying to enjoy our national pastime is consistently ignored. New stadiums decrease overall capacity to increase season ticket sales. Fans are then forced to pay for both sides of the renovations, through taxes and increased ticket and food prices.
This new agreement is a step in the opposite direction; it is an example of Major League Baseball, listening to the voice of its many “constituents” and acting upon their concerns. This is also a prime example of the power and strength a politician in the national spotlight can lend to a quality grassroots cause.
Government can provide a variety of services and advocate in a range of areas we don’t normally associate with them. The realm of constituent benefits doesn’t have to be limited to a competition for the largest and most outrageous amounts of pork a congressman can bring home. There are a variety of issues our state and federal representatives can fight for on our behalf that cost neither time nor the public’s faith in congressional ethics. Candidates need to remember the importance of the small, yet meaningful changes they bring.
As an obsessive Yankee fan and fantasy sports competitor, I am excited about this new proposed contract and the shift in policy it brings to Major League Baseball. Petty differences between team owners groping for larger media markets and jumping their profit margins have no place disrupting our beloved national pastime.
Kristein is a member of the class of 2009.