Mike Bates is a Twins fan living in Iowa. Not only that, but he’s an Editor and Contributor to SBNation’s MLB Daily Dish — meaning baseball is not just a pastime but part of his livelihood. I’ve never met Bates in person, but he seems like a reasonable man (and a funny person on Twitter).
Some things will send a reasonable man into a blind rage, however, and Major League Baseball’s television blackout policy is that tipping point for Bates.
And nobody should blame him. Sure, nobody is forcing him to live in Cedar Rapids (imagine if they were?). But as a baseball fan living in Cedar Rapids, which is more than 240 miles away from any major league city, a fan might reasonably expect to be able to watch the full menu of games available through the MLB.TV package. After all, there are blackout restrictions on home viewing areas … but Cedar Rapids does not have a single home viewing area.
Ah, technically that last sentence is correct. Cedar Rapids doesn’t have a single team in its home viewing area. It has six, according to MLB: the Twins, Brewers, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals and Royals.
That means Bates can’t watch games involving six different teams. On any given night, when those teams aren’t playing each other, he will be shut out of 6 of 15 games (40 percent). For the year, he’s kept a running tally: Overall, 183/573 (31.94 percent) of available games have been blacked out in Cedar Rapids — and pretty much all of Iowa for that matter — this season. As a map from C.J. Sinner shows, none of the blacked out teams are close to Cedar Rapids (though they do make a menacing perimeter around the city).
“If you’re a satellite subscriber you can purchase the regional sports packages for an extra $13 a month on top of your monthly subscriptions,” Bates said. “Like an increasing number of Americans, however, I decided that cable and satellite were too expensive and full of channels I didn’t either want or have time to watch, so I stopped using it. Instead, I pay for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and MLB.TV.”
Sounds logical and magical … instead, it has become pretty awful for Bates, who moved to Cedar Rapids in October of 2014.
“I will say that I have managed to find ways around the blackout restriction … so I can actually watch the Twins when I’m at home. However, I can’t use that system at work and I can’t use it to watch Twins games on my TV or through my game console,” Bates said. “Also, there are thousands of other potential users of the service who would not know how to troubleshoot their way around this issue. Finally, the principle behind the blackout policy is pretty awful. I pay the same price as everyone else in the country for what amounts to two-thirds of the service because MLB wants to force me to get cable to watch my favorite team.”
Indeed. People in Minnesota with MLB.TV complain about the Twins blackout restriction, but they’re the only team blacked out here. Imagine if you couldn’t watch one-third of the games while living in a place nowhere near a major league ballpark? Or even if you were indirectly impacted — as Forbes notes, Cleveland plays the six teams blacked out in Iowa 57 times. So if you’re a Cleveland fan living in Iowa, you’re missing more than 1/3 of the games you want to watch, too.
And Iowa isn’t alone. MLB has a handy (if something with annoying results can be handy) spot where you can type in your zip code to see which teams are blacked out. Sure enough, a Cedar Rapids zip code pulls up those six teams … and a Las Vegas zip code pulls up six other blacked out teams in that city: the A’s, Giants, Dodgers, Angels, Padres and Diamondbacks.
While the courts have started to look into MLB’s blackout rules, teams rake in so much money off lucrative regional sports network deals that it’s hard to imagine things changing anytime soon.
Until then, Bates will keep tracking the blacked out games. He has plenty of free time since he can’t watch them.
“I’m a profoundly selfish person, and so I’ve only been tracking it since it started mattering to me,” he said. “By the time the season ends, I figure we will be somewhere between 33 and 35 percent.”
Once upon a time, the NFL season had a beginning, an end and baseball in between. People from coast to coast were known to look away from “The Shield” for days, weeks or — brace for it — months at a time. Studies performed on these primitive cave people revealed remarkably clumsy thumb-typing ability but an advanced memory system that enabled them to remember the NFL without daily lists like this one on May 19:
Three things — in order — that have to go right for Vikings in 2015
1, Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line
No position causes as much concern as the offensive line. None. Not even close.
Only one of five starters — center John Sullivan — generates any sort of starter-level confidence at this point. That leaves four question marks up front. That’s not good considering a single weak link can topple an offensive line, which topples the quarterback, which topples the team, which sends us back to Mock Draft purgatory before Halloween .
Individually, there are concerns about injuries, consistency, talent and a combination of all three. Collectively, these guys have often played like individuals even when healthy. They’ve missed basic stunts and games that can’t continue.
Phil Loadholt is coming off a significant injury and has been inconsistent. Brandon Fusco is coming off the same significant injury and might be switching from right to left guard, which is no easy adjustment. A rookie fourth-round tackle, T.J. Clemmings, is inching toward the starting right guard spot. And left tackle Matt Kalil has had further knee issues coming off a season destroyed by knee issues.
I’m not saying this group won’t come together and do its job well. But if you’re assembling hot seats entering the 2015 season, you can have Cordarelle Patterson and his wayward route running if you want. Me? My hot seat has five chairs in the front row. If these guys don’t perform, nothing else matters.
2, Teddy’s next step
Here’s what I think I like most about Teddy Bridgewater:
He might be the only guy who hasn’t assumed that Teddy Bridgewater has already arrived as the sure-fire franchise quarterback with the career arc that can’t go anywhere but up over the next 10-12 years.
I like it that he had a good rookie season filled with unusual poise. I like it that the only news he made off the field was quietly attending the Wild playoff game. I like it that he was at Winter Park working out with teammates as the offseason conditioning program began in April. But I really like it that he’s unaffected by all the adulation, not to mention the rose petals that we spread before him as he walks among us.
“I appreciate people saying I had a good rookie season, but if I play at that same level this year, we’ll be 7-9 again, and that’s not good enough,” Bridgewater said last month.
That’s the best Vikings quote of the offseason because it didn’t sound like a modern athlete just reciting some rehearsed sound bite to the masses. He sounded like he actually believed it.
I think Bridgewater will keep getting better. But, as Teddy tells us, we can’t just assume it. So if the offensive line performs, the next pressure point is Bridgewater taking a big step forward.
3, Waynes must be ready Day 1
Incredibly ugly visits to Green Bay and Chicago were more than enough to convince the Vikings they didn’t have enough quality cornerbacks to compete in the NFC North, where they went 0-5 before beating a Bears team that had given up.
Hence the Trae Waynes pick at No. 11 overall. If the big corner from Michigan State lives up to expectations immediately, the Vikings’ chances of winning the division increase significantly because coach Mike Zimmer will be able to design a game plan that doesn’t include a giant target next to a big hole on one half of the field. Otherwise, without Waynes stepping up, there’s no reason to suggest better results against the likes of Aaron Rodgers and all those big receivers in the North.
Getting the No. 1 overall pick would certainly be better than getting the No. 2, 3 or 4 pick if you’re the Wolves.
There is your breaking news bulletin for the day.
But what are the odds of the Wolves getting the top pick when the order is determined tonight? How has the top pick fared historically? And how does the top pick impact a team in his first year in the NBA?
The folks at Rukkus.com came up with a nice interactive graphic to help visualize a lot of No. 1 pick facts. You can view the interactive version here … we’ve broken a few of the more interesting pieces into chunks below:
There’s nothing earth-shattering in that graphic above, but it is a helpful visualization when realizing that while the Wolves odds of getting a top-3 pick (and the No. 1 pick) are better than any other team, the difference between Minnesota and New York (second-best odds) isn’t all that great. The fact remains that the most likely individual scenario is that the Wolves get the No. 4 pick.
How good could we expect the No. 1 pick to be? Well, that chart above gives a pretty good overview of how the 68 previous No. 1 picks have fared since the draft’s inception in 1947. Roughly two-thirds of them at least become All-Stars. Fourteen won Rookie of the Year (including Andrew Wiggins this past season).To be an All-Star at least once means you are at least a pretty good NBA player … so the bar for No. 1 picks is, I suppose, usually they are at least pretty good.
Interestingly, the No. 1 pick (on average) means a nice boost in wins (though that certainly didn’t happen with the Wolves last year, who dropped from 40 to 16 wins). What is more interesting, perhaps, is that attendance actually drops for the team with the No. 1 pick … so the Wolves, if they get the pick, shouldn’t assume it will mean a boost at the gate.