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Cord-Cutters Strike Out

At first blush, Major League Baseball’s recent agreement allowing Fox Sports-owned regional sports networks to stream live games within their local markets may look like a score for sports fans looking to cut the cord on the traditional cable package.

But in reality, the deal is more like a sacrifice bunt advancing the value of the cable bundle to baseball fans in select local markets. MLB’s new digital pitch allows viewers to move from first base, where they could only access their local baseball team’s games on their big-screen TVs, to second base, where they can now watch local games on digital platforms — but not without a swing from the Fox regionals. Viewers have to be authenticated by Fox Sports and their pay TV provider. If their package doesn’t include the Fox-owned network, they’re shut out.

In another strikeout for cord-cutters, the MLB.tv out-of-market over-the-top package will remain just that — viewers won’t be able to use that platform to access local games online throughout the reported three-year deal.

The ability for in-market fans of the world champion Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers or the 11 other MLB teams whose TV rights are held by Fox Sports-owned regionals to watch games on their iPads, phones or computers is a major development for MLB and the programmer.

For distributors, the deal further enhances the value of the cable bundle to devoted local sports fans who can’t get enough of their local team.

To put it another way, providing online access to Fox Sports’ live telecasts of regional baseball games allows operators to hit a digital home run for their subscribers.