For the first time in club history, the Orioles won’t air a slate of games on local broadcast television this season.
The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will become the exclusive home of Orioles baseball with the exception of select games on national television, which could mean a few games airing on WBFF Fox 45 in Baltimore. It’s no secret that the number of contests shown on WJZ-TV had dwindled in recent years in favor of MASN, but the local CBS affiliate had still aired 20 Orioles games produced by the cable network last year.
Washington Nationals games will also now be shown exclusively on MASN and MASN2 after a limited slate of contests had aired on a local broadcast channel in Washington in recent years.
The decision is hardly unprecedented as regular-season Red Sox games haven’t aired on local broadcast TV in Boston for more than a decade, but the wealthy New York Yankees haven’t abandoned local broadcast TV and will air 21 games on WPIX this season.
It’s an unfortunate development for local Orioles fans who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV as more and more people are “cutting the cord” in favor of streaming services. Making matters worse is the Orioles and MASN being so far behind other major league clubs with their archaic restrictions on in-market streaming.
This measure is unlikely to move the meter in a dramatic way for the Orioles and MASN as you wouldn’t expect the disappearance of such a limited slate of local broadcasts would move anyone to suddenly subscribe to cable or satellite TV. However, the occasional game airing on WJZ likely served as a decent advertisement for the club in terms of enticing viewers to buy tickets for a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards or giving them a preview of MASN’s product in the same way HBO offers free preview weekends from time to time.
When you’re not airing any games on over-the-air TV and — even more concerning — continue to drag your feet over in-market streaming policies, it’s easy to argue that you’re protecting your cable network and rights fees in the present day. However, the long-term danger is being out of sight and eventually out of mind in an age when TV-viewing habits are rapidly evolving.