MLB shouldn't play inside baseball

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

By Jo Ann Emerson

Opening day is right around the corner, and I get more and more excited for baseball every year. Not only does that first pitch signal the earnest arrival of spring, but it also means watching my beloved Cardinals take the field.

Baseball is, and always has been, the quintessential American sport. The lush green lawn of the field and the easy stride of the outfielders running to their positions are only outdone by the sounds of the game: a leather ball popping into the pocket of a leather glove, the crack of the bat, the rising timbre of the crowd as a fly ball carries back, back, back ... . At no time do these sounds grab hold of our American psyche quite like they do in the first week of April.

Everyone is equal, starting with a fresh record, and anything is possible.

This season is especially important as my favorite team sets out in defense of the World Series Championship, but many Americans who aren't lucky enough to live in the regular broadcast areas of their favorite teams will find themselves shut out of the system.

Because Major League Baseball is working to sell the exclusive broadcast rights to out-of-market games to DirecTV, Americans who have in the past been able to buy a subscription package from their regular cable providers will no longer be able to do so. Even worse, DirecTV is not available to consumers who don't have access to the southern sky or those whose landlords will not let them attach satellite dishes to their residences. The only recourse for those true fans -- and about 300,000 of them bought this package last year -- is a broadcast over high-speed Internet through a subscription service offered by Major League Baseball.

Members of the Senate have asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the sale of these exclusive rights, and I join them in urging us to carefully consider whether we want to allow Major League Baseball to start locking away contracts for seven years at a time. The pace of technological advancements dictates we should take care that we do not restrict America's pastime or its ability to reach fans.

Major League Baseball is the proud owner of an antitrust exemption, granted by the federal government. Because baseball belongs to every American, and not just the owners of its 30 teams, baseball is able to set many of its own rules relating to outside contracts and interstate commerce. As such, Major League Baseball is obligated at times to act in the public interest.

I think this is one of those times.

The opportunity to view out-of-market baseball games is not a right, that's for sure. In this case, a subscription package which is widely available to as many fans as possible, whether it is via broadband Internet, cable, or satellite television is clearly in the best interest of baseball fans. Of course fans will have to pay for the privilege of watching a Royals game in Raleigh, an A's game in Albuquerque, or -- in my case -- a Cardinals game in the Capitol.

Baseball is too precious a national commodity for an agreement that imposes exclusivity on a game which should belong to all Americans.

Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau represents Missouri's 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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