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If baseball’s streaming future is already here, MLB is ready

As Major League Baseball attempts to dramatically change the way fans experience the game, uncertainty hovers around how fans are able to even access it.

Earlier this month, Diamond Sports Group, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group that operates regional sports networks across the country branded as Bally Sports, filed for bankruptcy amid heavy debt.

Bally Sports owns the broadcast rights for 14 MLB teams, leaving a significant number of fans on unsteady ground as they get set for Opening Day.

Thirteen of those teams are owed their broadcast rights fees by Diamond Sports Group by April 30, per ESPN, meaning a major overhaul could happen quickly.

If Diamond fails to pay, those teams would be free to break from their contracts and pursue different deals.

Although MLB said it was is confident Diamond Sports Group will meet its payment obligations during bankruptcy and continue to broadcast those teams’ games, the league also assured in a statement that it would step in to distribute the games if Diamond is unable, or refuses, to do so.

Cleveland Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario (1) and Cleveland Guardians right fielder Will Benson (29) are interviewed by Bally Sports in game reporter Andre Knott after Rosario drive in Benson for the game-winning run in the eleventh inning of the Major League Baseball Interleague game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Guardians on August 1, 2022, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If that step is needed, MLB would likely stream those teams’ games on its MLB.TV platform and attempt to negotiate deals with cable companies to make them available on that platform.

Already, Diamond has missed payments to two teams, the Diamondbacks and Padres, per ESPN, triggering a contractual grace period, and is expected to start forfeiting rights to some of its teams’ broadcasts as it attempts to stay afloat.

MLB execs are ready to pounce on that potential opening — one that would help speed the transition to steaming — and don’t see many barrier to success.

“The pure infrastructure is relatively turnkey,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s Chief Operations and Strategy Officer, told Post Sports+ from the league’s New York City offices as it introduced its new technology innovations for fans for the 2023 season. “The back-end technology that we need to deliver games to a consumer is technology we’ve had for decades, and we upgrade and improve every single year. It’s just a matter of capacity.

“I think there’s a separate question of: If we all of a sudden have a lot of local fans coming into our products and looking for content, they’re gonna want to see more around their local team, their favorite team, so we’d lean into that even more than what we’re already doing, creating access for fans to access their favorite or local team. The question is really more around presentation and delivery than the actual infrastructure components.”

MLB game production studio.
Jared Schwartz

The total minutes of baseball streamed on MLB.TV has increased by 53 percent since 2019, the league says, as people continue to move away from cable and toward individual streaming companies.

MLB has attempted to position itself at the forefront of the cable-to-streaming transition in the sports landscape, placing an emphasis on improving MLB.TV and its MLB Ballpark app and providing as many direct-to-fans features and innovations as possible.

The downfall of RSNs would provide MLB an opportunity to control its own broadcasts, and centralize, or homogenize, the way fans consume games through one service if they capture the broadcast rights to teams.

Though it would likely mean a short-term drop in revenue (most major league teams draw about 20 percent of revenue through their RSN deals, per ESPN), it could provide upside, such as a decrease in blacked-out games and more ways to watch games, via smartphones or other devices. Most important, it would give MLB oversight of a crucial element of the fan experience.

Is that the end goal?

MLB presents a slide about its enhanced MLB Ballpark app.
Jared Schwartz

“Eliminating some of the blocks that we’ve had around territories and delivering the consumer an integrated experience is a positive,” Marinack said. “The idea that you can go to one place and get access to your content, I think, is great for the fans. Whether that will happen, when that will happen, how that will happen, it’s just impossible to know what that looks like.“

Although Diamond Sports Group faces a pivotal next few weeks as its payments come due, there is no concrete timetable for when, or, if, MLB will need to step in.

Regardless, MLB wants to change the way the game is consumed.

For now, that effort revolves around its MLB Ballpark app, which will introduce new game-tracking features, such as a 3D rendering. With the help of high-frame-rate cameras newly installed in all 30 ballparks, users will be able to explore a model that recreates plays from a myriad of angles across the field.

In addition, fans will be able to use bat tracking, which illustrates where on the bat hitters made contact, as well as a plethora of stats in the augmented Gameday mode that provides users with bat speed and pitch-by-pitch information such as spin rate, break, velocity, and more.

Baseball’s hope to shift the viewing experience will also extend to the field, where the league is considering how to recreate some of the fan engagement this year’s World Baseball Classic generated.

Members of Team Japan celebrate as Shohei Ohtani #16 comes in to score in the ninth inning during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Semifinal game between Team Mexico and Team Japan at loanDepot Park on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
MLB Photos via Getty Images

“Those games were unique, that’s why they were interesting,” Marinack said. “To the extent you can create elements of the game throughout 162 that are unique. For example, ‘Field of Dreams’ [games]. You create these unique experiences that stand out from the 162, it just creates that much more interest and engagement. Those are things we are going to continue to focus on this year and in the future about new venues, new ways of presenting the game, bringing players or teams together that wouldn’t have otherwise come together.”

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on March 29, 2023
New York Post

Read more:

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Three keys to Knicks-Heat, Round 4

With a win in Wednesday night’s critical matchup with the Heat at the Garden (7:30 p.m., MSG), the Knicks would put themselves in a strong position to secure a top-six playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and avoid the play-in tournament.

With a loss, the Knicks’ potential playoff seeding starts to get dicey.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket against New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the third quarter at Miami-Dade Arena.

After winning the first two matchups of the season with Miami (including the Julius Randle double-bang game), the Knicks fell 127-120 last Wednesday to their longtime foes.

Some keys to victory from the teams’ three previous matchups, all in the past two months:

Perimeter defense: In the first wins, the Knicks allowed 36.1 shooting on 3-pointers. That figure rose to 48.0 percent in the second game. In last week’s loss, they allowed the Heat to shoot a blistering 57.1 percent from distance.

Take care of the ball: The Knicks limited their turnovers to 11 and 12, respectively, in the two wins, but committed 17 turnovers in the loss.

Contain Jimmy Butler: The Heat star scored just 10 points in the first matchup, and though he tallied 33 points in the second matchup, 18 of them were on free throws and he was not efficient. Butler scored 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field in the most recent matchup, and took control late.

Get ready for a different game

Anthony Volpe #77 of the New York Yankees stands in the batters box at eight seconds on the pitch clock during a Grapefruit League Spring Training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 06, 2023 in Tampa, Florida.
Getty Images

With Opening Day arriving on Thursday, let’s take a look at how some of MLB’s most noteworthy rules tweaks played out at spring training (all stats through March 24 games):

• With the new pitch clock, the average length of games has been just two hours and 35 minutes, a decrease of 26 minutes from last year.

• Prompted by bigger bases, stolen base attempts were up to 2.4 a game from 1.6 per game last spring, and the stolen base success rate had risen to 79 percent from 71 percent.

• The ban on extreme infield defensive shifts has seen the collective batting average on pulled grounders rise from .183 last year to .210 this year, while it dropped from .367 to .342 on grounders hit to the opposite field. Overall, batting average on balls in play had increased from .312 to .320.

Shakur Stevenson has an eye on Davis-Garcia

Shakur Stevenson (L) and Robson Conceição (R) exchange punches during their WBC and WBO junior lightweight championship fight at Prudential Center on September 23, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.
Top Rank via Getty Images

With two of the biggest superstars in boxing, Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Ryan Garcia, set to square off in one of the sport’s most-anticipated fights in years, we asked acclaimed undefeated fighter Shakur Stevenson to put on his analyst hat.

Although the bout is at a 136-pound catchweight, both Davis and Garcia have both fought at lightweight (135-pound limit) for much of their careers, and emerged as two of the sport’s biggest attractions.

“I think that Tank knocks Ryan out,” Stevenson told Post Sports+. “I think that Tank is on a different level than Ryan. Ryan is tough, and Ryan’s been around, so he’s gonna have some movements, but I don’t think he’s on the same level as Tank.”

After winning world titles at featherweight (126 pounds) and super featherweight (130 pounds), Newark’s Stevenson recently moved up to lightweight. He will make his debut in the weight class against Shuichiro Yoshino on April 8.

Stevenson wants to fight the winner of the Devin Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko undisputed lightweight title bout that’s set for May 20, but a high-stakes fight against Davis or Garcia could very well be in Stevenson’s near future.

Pep squad

Are you watching, Gregg Berhalter?

Ricardo Pepi is proving you wrong.

United States forward Ricardo Pepi (9) tries to direct a head ball to the goal against El Salvador's Roberto Dominguez (3), Nelson Blanco (5), Christian Martinez (14) and Jairo Henriquez (17) during the second half of a CONCACAF Nations League soccer match Monday, March 27, 2023, in Orlando, Fla.

As manager of the U.S. men’s national team, Berhalter surprisingly decided not to take the talented 20-year-old striker with him to last year’s World Cup despite Pepi playing a pivotal role in qualifying.

Pepi, who plays for German team Augsburg but is currently on loan to Dutch side FC Groningen, appeared in 10 World Cup qualifying games (eight starts), scoring three goals and providing one assist.

None of the strikers Berhalter ultimately selected on the 26-man squad — Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Morris and Haji Wright — had scored more than one goal in qualifying.

Each got a crack to make a difference in Qatar for the USMNT, but the Americans predictably struggled to score as Pepi watched from home.

With Berhalter currently without a contract and still engulfed in the fallout of the Reyna family saga, Anthony Hudson served as team’s interim manager for its CONCACAF Nations League games this past week.

Hudson selected Pepi to his roster, and started him in the team’s 7-1 rout of Grenada on Friday. Pepi scored twice, helping spark the offensive eruption.

On Monday against El Salvador, Pepi came off the bench in the 60th minute with the score tied 0-0, and it took him just two minutes to make his mark with a gorgeous chip over the goalie to provide the difference in the USMNT’s eventual 1-0 win that claimed a spot in the tournament semifinals.

Pepi also has thrived outside of the USMNT, scoring nine goals and recording three assists in 21 appearances in the Dutch league.

Berhalter was the one watching from home this time, and he likely wants his Pepi decision back.