Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The "Cost" of Being a Fan

Okay, so as I have repeated innumerable times, I don’t actually live in Maryland anymore. Nor do I live anywhere close enough to catch the regional broadcasts or hear my local television personalities throw out some veteran player who is not-so-good in front of the camera to give me an analysis of the game. I am sure I’m not the only reader of this blog who has to deal with this; a big reason sports blogs have been so successful is their ability to convey information (and the fan’s voice) to other fans far away from their team’s home base. Newspapers simply do not give enough depth to their reporting to give the reader an accurate, holistic view of the team and the team websites have details but are far too rosy to be taken seriously. So what is a fan to do when they need to catch a flight to get in the same time zone as their team?

Well, there are cable/satellite packages, but these force you to buy an entire channel (or channels) devoted to that entire sport (for baseball this would be MLB Extra Innings). Sorry, I don’t want to pay for Pirates-Brewers, but thanks anyway. These can cost $200 a season at minimum and when you tally in all of the extra fees and programs to ensure you get something worthwhile it can reach almost $300. Now that may not be much for some, but when you are already paying a hefty price tag for cable or satellite service that can be just a bit more piling on. Additionally, these have so many blackout restrictions that you may not see your team if they play on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, in North Carolina MASN sports doesn’t have an agreement with Time Warner, meaning that if you are an O’s (or “Expos”) fan, you won’t see your team even if you have MLB Extra Innings. This service might be great for a fan of the sport or a true student of the game who doesn’t care what team he or she watches, but for a partisan like most of us, it matters.

Then there’s MLB TV from MLB.com. For a much reduced price you can watch games on your computer ($70 a season for premium, $50 a season for regular). Personally I don’t like staring at my computer that much, but I did do the regular for one season. It was grainy and I had to settle with the broadcast from whatever team was at home (which was painful to watch Red Sox or Yankees games). I can see myself perhaps doing the premium down the line, but only if I can handle staring at my laptop for three hours at a time. The TV, for whatever reason, is much easier.

Okay, so for the NFL, DirectTV has the exclusive rights to out-of-market games, which is great... for the NFL. The satellite provider allows individuals to buy the “Sunday Ticket” package to watch over the internet, but only if satellite is unavailable where you live. So Comcast users, you better suck it up. Moreover, if the price for Extra Innings didn’t turn you off this might. $300 for standard Sunday Ticket, and if you want that in HD better cough up an extra $100. They know fans love their teams and will do anything to get a better glimpse of them outside of box scores and recaps.

Why am I going through all this? Just to illustrate how hard it can be to follow your team from outside of your region. Most of us rely on ESPN for our sports news, but unless you follow the Yankees, Red Sox, Celtics, Lakers, Patriots, Cowboys, or the Brett Favre soap opera you are pretty much out of luck. I hold onto my blog news, mlb.com free highlights, the occasional radio broadcast and the ubiquitous bar scene where I can usually get them to change the channel to the Orioles game if they are playing a team in the AL Central. Finally, I fly home and see a game at least 4 or 5 times a season so that I can get a firsthand view of my team- and I'd take being in Baltimore those 5 times over paying for a gigantic sports tier. That way I have to put in a lot of effort but still get a strong idea of how the team is actually doing. We all know that being a Baltimore fan has a price- a dozen losing seasons for the Orioles, a sweep at the hands of the Steelers, but one should still be able to follow the team reliably. I am sure I will have to buy some package eventually, when visiting home isn't possible or I haven't gotten to see someone pitch and want to mention them in a post, but so far I have figured out that you don't necessarily need the sports packages to make that happen. Try to be wise in figuring out how much fandom needs to come out of your pocketbook.

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