The news was lost to some degree amid the week’s irresistible Manning-Brady 17 hubbub, but word of Major League Baseball’s settlement with a group of fans that increases viewing options is worth further acknowledgment, even if it probably doesn’t have much of an impact on how local viewers will follow the Red Sox.
MLB settled a class-action lawsuit Tuesday in which lawyers representing a group of fans argued that antitrust laws had been violated by the collusion of some television networks to enact and enforce strict rules on viewership boundaries for teams’ regional broadcasts.
The suit, settled hours before the trial was set to begin, reduces the price of the full online national MLB.tv package to $109.99 for the season; that gives access to every televised game except for those in the purchaser’s market. For the first time, fans also will be allowed to sign up for packages for a single team for $84.99.
“We believe this settlement brings significant change to the sports broadcasting landscape,” said Ned Diver, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, to the Associated Press. “It’s a big win for baseball fans.”
It is a win for, say, a Red Sox fan in Phoenix, who only wants to pay the $84.99 to watch Red Sox games. But the in-market benefit is negligible. For those who have not cut the cable cord only because they don’t want to give up NESN and watching Red Sox games — and I have heard from a few — this is not a reason to do so.
The local broadcasts are still blacked out on MLB.tv. By July, fans will be allowed to pay $10 (on top of the full-package MLB.tv cost) to get the out-of-market announcers for a Red Sox game, rather than being totally blacked out. But you still need to be a NESN subscriber in order to receive that option.
Bottom line: The settlement is good one — a cheaper and more preference-specific one, anyway — for baseball fans. But it is not happening at the expense of regional cable networks by any stretch.
OK, now we return to your regularly scheduled AFC Championship game chatter . . .
In Bill Cowher’s 15 seasons as the Steelers coach, his teams participated in 21 playoff games, including a victory 10 years ago in the Super Bowl. In those 21 games, his team faced Tom Brady twice (losing in the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship games) and Peyton Manning once (defeating the Colts, 21-18, in the divisional round en route to the championship in 2005).
So Cowher, now happily entrenched as an analyst on CBS’s studio programs, draws from first-hand knowledge when he discusses Brady, Manning and what to expect in their 17th career meeting Sunday (CBS’s coverage begins at 2 p.m.).
“It’s really ironic,” said Cowher. “When they first met, Tom had the defense, and he had the running game, with the potential to run the ball 30 times a game. Peyton was the one throwing it 50 times a game, and now it’s like they’ve reversed roles. Tom’s throwing it 50 times a game and Peyton’s relying on the running game.”
Don’t count Cowher among the analysts who believe it will be necessary for the Patriots to effectively run the ball if they are going to beat the host Broncos.
“I think they need to run it enough just to give the receivers a chance to catch their breath,’’ he said. “No one uses the short passing game better than Tom Brady. He may throw it 52 times, but 10 or 12 of those passes will basically be an extension of the running game.”
“The running plays that they have will be the third-and-shorts, the third-and-1 or -2. Getting something like that going would help, getting [Steven] Jackson going. And then you have [James] White out of the backfield, because he was pretty quiet last week, and that could be a good matchup for them as well.
“The running game, it would be a plus, but I don’t think it’s a necessity.”
For the Broncos, he says, the running game is more important, in part because of Manning’s limitations at age 39.
“I think the biggest thing that Peyton will do, and what he’s done so well, is that he’ll put them in the best possible play,’’ said Cowher.
“Getting into the running game, just like they were able to do in the fourth quarter last week against the Steelers, if they can do that and get the running game going, it can create opportunities for one-on-ones in the secondary. That’s what the gives them their best chance.”
Not a big draw
The Patriots-Chiefs matchup in the divisional round Saturday drew surprisingly low numbers. The broadcast drew 31.5 million viewers on CBS, down 7 percent from the Ravens-Patriots matchup in that window last year. It was the least-watched game of the divisional round, and drew the lowest viewership since the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens in the wild-card round in January 2010 (27.4 million viewers) . . . Fox Sports has never struck me as a network to quickly admit a high-profile personnel mistake, but to its credit, it has done so twice recently. Less than a month after removing Harold Reynolds from its top baseball broadcast team, the network announced it was parting ways with Greg Norman, the charismatic golf legend who inexplicably showed little personality during his year as an analyst on the network. Fox Sports did the right thing in replacing Reynolds with John Smoltz. If it wants a similar upgrade on golf, it could do worse than to promote Brad Faxon into Norman’s spot, though the network will likely prefer someone with a higher profile.
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com.
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