The Miami Marlins should not sign a local TV broadcast exclusivity contract with Sinclair Broadcasting Group because Bally Sports Florida is a bad frame for the Marlins; they’d be selling their drama short.
Baseball as an entertainment is about drama. With the length of a 162-game season fans see players develop and emerge in the Majors as the games are played, we see division rivalries play out across 19 games every year, and we see the organization above it all make transactions and acquisitions that determine the future of the franchise.
Fans can engage with it all by watching along. Finding an online fan community or one to engage with in their actual life. Fans can go to games when possible. Play as their favorite team in many different styles of video games from arcade games to front-office simulators. Beyond that, fans might participate in fantasy sports and follow the major league game at-large.
All of that can be monetized. Obviously there are many possible revenue streams for an MLB franchise. This isn’t new territory, but what is something of an existential threat to the sport we love is gambling.
It’s clear that gambling has been and will always be a part of baseball and it has a home here. Gambling is fun—I don’t know any sports fan personally that hasn’t at least played in a fantasy game be it a Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) contest or a whole season. It’s a part of the fan experience.
Earlier this offseason, FOX Sports signed a naming rights deal with Bally’s Corporation, a casino operator based in Rhode Island. That gave the casino got access to how a sport is framed. This partnership “plans for Bally’s and Sinclair to create unrivaled sports betting and gamification content on a national scale”. As much as this sounds like a compelling business model and as much as gambling is a part of the fan experience for baseball fans, this Marlins team should not sell its entertainment value short.
As a fan since 2003, and a true follower of the sport since 2007, I’ve seen an immense amount of compelling drama. The World Series victory I experienced when I was a child. Even the feeling of Opening Day 2008 as the Marlins sent Mark Hendrickson to the mound against Johan Santana and the Mets felt better than a simple game spread—it was an underdog Marlins with a star like Hanley Ramirez against one of the best pitchers in the league. It was exciting, and even a moderately competitive team like 2008 was enough to make a lifelong fan out of this author who never played baseball but found a love for it.
We should welcome gamblers into our game without allowing them to frame it for themselves in a way that threatens MLB’s integrity. There’ll be a time in the not-too-distant future where every MLB team has a sportsbook in their stadium. This is the present and if the revenue benefits the sport then baseball is only more vibrant for developing new ways to experience the sport.
The Marlins still need to have broadcasts of their games. As a fan I can’t imagine an alternative to live video. I don’t even want a change from Todd Hollandsworth and Paul Severino and the rest of the talent that fans have recently grown accustomed to. Not to mention the staff involved in the production of the broadcasts.
Maybe the solution is something like a Sinclair-owned Marlins Network. From 1993-2005 the Marlins broadcast games on the Marlins Television Network. Sacrifice the Bally Sports Branding, allow some integration of gambling into the telecast, acknowledge gambling as a lens on the sport, but don’t be a part of an RSN.
If that isn’t a realistic prospect then move on from Sinclair. Lift the blackout and maintain tv exclusivity for a different time when the team can get fair compensation for their broadcast rights. Recent reporting indicates that Miami was paid an MLB-low $18 million in 2020 for their exclusive broadcast rights at the cost of a media blackout across the state; and for Florida residents that would mean tuning into Bally Sports Florida to watch the Marlins no matter what.
They would control the framing of the Miami Marlins season even if it means bringing production of a Gameday broadcast in-house. Maybe Sinclair would be willing to part ways with their current production crew and talent.
If the playoff appearance in 2020, the improved outlook of the team headed into 2021 and with what Ken Rosenthal recently named the #4 farm system in baseball are any indication; this team is poised for a breakout and we might be entering the first era of sustained success on the ball field in Marlins history.
We, the fan, care about that and want to see that.
Recently Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that “realistically” the Marlins will need to accept whatever Sinclair offers because outside-the-box options like YouTube TV, or Amazon or even a local tv affiliate are not likely prospects. The idea that’s been floated is mostly that a sort of ‘pillow contract’ for 1 or two years at some $ per year and giving exclusive broadcast rights to Sinclair under this new branding and framing of Bally Sports Florida while this whole Covid-19 situation passes and the sports economy can progress as normal.
Do whatever experiment you want. Innovate within your industry however you want. As a fan I’d be willing to subscribe to MLB.TV and I’d be excited to see games broadcast through any other outlet. Life the regional blackout if you want and buck the recent trends in the industry. As a cord-cutting millennial, I’d actually prefer something like that.
Even have a Bally’s Sportsbook in Marlins Park.
My only concern is in the framing. I might even have fun putting some money on a Fish World Series or a 4th Inning at-bat; the life gambling should lead in baseball, is that. They should even advertise however they want.
But right now, right here, the Marlins should not sell out.
Experiment. Maybe gain some PR impressions with some unorthodox business. Hold on to your existing fanbase and do whatever’s possible to find new audiences and grow the sport and organization.
Theoretically, a TV home could be found locally in Miami or in local markets across the state if the Miami Marlins do not sell their exclusivity with it. In a season like 2021 where the team is positioned coming off of a playoff appearance, and in a long-term sense reemerging from a major roster tear-down. The team has acquired veteran players to play good baseball while the club-controlled and potentially franchise-defining players lurk in their shadows waiting to breakout.
If the goal of the Miami Marlins is to provide entertainment by remaining sustainably competitive the Marlins would be well-served to ensure as many eyes see their product as possible and this ‘Bally Sports Florida’ proposition does not do that and any offer they’ve made does not provide the financial stability that a MLB team needs to remain competitive the way a team like the St. Louis Cardinals or Atlanta Braves seem to do.
The Marlins need to be filling their stadium regularly, locking themselves into mutually beneficial deals and providing nationally-relevant baseball with continuity that fans can feel safe to attach themselves to.
As a fan myself I’ve seen the organization trade away future Hall-of-Fame players like Miguel Cabrera who likely will appear in Cooperstown as a Detroit Tiger. Had an MVP in Giancarlo Stanton purchased by the New York Yankees. I don’t even want to get started talking about the times this team has made a much, much deeper emotional impact; but now, I see a competitive roster emerging with strong leadership in Kim Ng, Don Mattingly and Miguel Rojas and organizational talent to back it up.
2021 is a year where we all need baseball. Obviously, we don’t need it so bad that anyone’s safety is brought into question. But we need it so bad that our fans can access it, follow it and develop their passion for it with access to live games and a broadcast team like what Sinclair offers.
But that does not mean that the Miami Marlins organization should let itself be backed into a corner. They have another option. They could make the gameday broadcasts in-house, acquire the existing Miami Marlins broadcast team. Offer their games on MLB.TV for a price and hustle and find opportunities to air games on traditional television for a bit.
Come back to the table next year and see if interests align. Wait out the Coronavirus, find national relevance and broadcasts with winning baseball. Upgrade internal competences in gameday broadcasting, perhaps even build a portfolio of Marlins and baseball relevant shows, lay the groundwork for a team-owned network like we see with YES Network and otherwise across the league.
Going independent doesn’t mean the Marlins would be divorcing themselves from standard MLB opportunities like having their regular season games carried on ESPN and MLB Network. Maybe even Nickelodeon would have interest in some mid-week day game like they did with the NFL playoffs this year.
The audience from credible national organizations like that, and creating a budget to promote the team online perhaps on social media outlets like Snapchat and Facebook might put Miami in a better position in the future to get what it needs to sustain it’s organization. While us currently devoted fans would certainly be willing to pay for MLB.TV to watch all 162 games; lifting the blackout would be a possible trendsetting move and offer a way out of the current, seemingly bleak negotiation and a mediocre outlook.
I like television. It’s a great product that has provided me much comfort over the years. I would love to see every Miami Marlins games on TV and a sort of 24/7 cycle around local sport. Just, Miami Marlins, make sure you’re not selling yourself short.
What we want is an organization we’re proud to support. We want one that enriches our community and brings us great entertainment and the truth-telling journalism that comes with it and the keepsakes, stories and memories to pass down with us through generations.
This era of the Marlins should be defined by the Marlins.