Mar 31, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) bats during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Like many of you, March 31, 2014 was a day full of anticipation for me. The day before I proudly set out my St. Louis Cardinals flag, as well as my two Cardinals themed lawn gnomes. On the morning of Opening Day, I got dressed wearing my red Cardinals polo with the bird on the bat emblem sewn into the left breast of the shirt. I headed to work feeling excited and confident that my Cardinals would deliver me a win that afternoon. Throughout the day I was reading various articles about how the Cardinals would fare this season, what to expect against the Cincinnati Reds, and I got to brag to my coworkers (mainly Chicago Cubs fans) about how well equipped the Cardinals are this season. You see, living in Davenport, IA is a somewhat unique baseball experience. St. Louis is roughly 5 hours south, Chicago is 3 hours east, Milwaukee is 3.5 hours northeast, and Minneapolis is 6 hours north. That equates to a very diverse fan base in the area. I have to admit, the Cubs seem to have the most fans, but the Cardinals must be in a very close second.
Knowing that the Cardinals and Reds game was going to be nationally televised, I set my DVR to record the broadcast on ESPN before I left for work. I rushed home after work, having missed only about 2 innings, quickly walked my dog around the neighborhood (at this point I had also thrown on a Cardinals baseball cap), and as I rounded the last street corner and approached my house, I could tell something was amiss. March 31 was a very windy day in Davenport. Apparently this wind was strong enough to blow both of my gnomes off my steps. As I neared my gnomes, I could tell one was badly wounded. Needless to say, we lost a good gnome that day, my friends. Unfortunately, that would end up being the least of my worries. Knowing the game was on and I could speed through the parts I missed, I quickly cleaned up the gnomes remains and headed inside to my couch and TV. I flipped on the the television, pulled up my recorded shows, found the Cardinals @ Reds, and hit play. Things quickly went downhill from here.
The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates game was televised prior to the Cardinals game. This game had to go to extra innings as both the Cubs and Pirates were scoreless after 9. I sped through the remainder of that game in order to get to the Cardinals broadcast. Ah, what a sight. Yadier Molina was at bat. Then it happened. The recording abruptly stopped. “How could this happen?” I thought to myself. Did my lovely wife have another show recording at the same time? Had I forgotten to cancel one of her many recordings of home improvement shows or wedding dress shows? Was the DVR full? Impossible. Realizing all of the game I had missed was not recorded, I quickly turned to ESPN to catch the rest of the game. I figured I had only missed 3 and a half innings. Then the proverbial rain really started to pour.
A black screen appeared on my television with a message saying that the Cardinals @ Reds game was blacked out on this channel. “Is the world coming to an end?” I asked myself. I was given the option to ‘find another channel’ that was carrying the game. Unfortunately, with the programming package I purchased from my provider, those other channels were not available. As the disbelief and anger and panic began to build, I quickly called my provider looking for answers. Of course, my providers phone system is automated, so it took what seemed like an eternity to finally talk to someone that I thought could give me answers. Of course, this poor operator had no clue about blackout policies and couldn’t comprehend the problem I was experiencing. I promptly hung up on him, and hopped on my computer to do some research.
I searched for “MLB Blackout Policies.” The number one hit was the Wikipedia page. There it states that, “A local broadcaster has priority to televise games of the team in their market over national broadcasters.” To me, that meant that Fox Sports Midwest was likely televising the game as well. I called my parents who live in the St. Louis area and asked them where they were watching the game. They informed me that ESPN was blacked out for them as well, but they were watching it on FSMidwest. This was a head scratcher to me. In Davenport, IA, my regional sports network is Comcast Sports Network Chicago. So, since my local/regional sports network was not airing the game, why wasn’t the national network (ESPN)? I called back my provider, explained all of this to them as calmly as possible realizing that my opportunity to watch the remainder of the game was quickly slipping away. Again, I did not get a solid answer.
I continued searching for my answer realizing I would have to figure this out on my own. As I scrolled further down the Wikipedia page I noticed a map with colored blackout areas for each team. It states, “The entire state of Iowa…is within the blackout areas of the Cubs, White Sox, Brewers, Twins, Cardinals and Royals.” Boom. Door shut in my face. My chance of watching this game abruptly came to an end. Being in the blackout area for the Cubs and White Sox made sense to me. I am in their regional sports networks viewing area. But why the other four teams? My wonderful service provider informed me I could purchase MLB Extra Innings to watch the game. Little did they know that too was affected by the blackout policy. Or, I could upgrade my package to obtain way more sports channels than even I would ever want for a ridiculous amount of money. Perhaps I will have to watch every game from a local watering hole.
I “watched” the remainder of the game via the free play-by-play feature on MLB.com and checking Twitter updates. As pleased as I was that the Cardinals won 1-0 by means of a Yadier Molina home run and a stellar pitching performance from Adam Wainwright and the bullpen, I still went to bed with a sour taste in my mouth. This morning I decided to look further in to the blackout areas of other teams. Many of these seem like they were created long ago, and have not been reviewed for change. For example, El Paso, TX, which is much closer to the Arizona Diamondbacks, is in the blackout area for the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. Southern Nevada is in the blackout area for all of the California teams. I decided the MLB should take a look at this, and revise these blackout policies. I realize this will likely not happen because they would have to restructure their television deals with the big sports networks. But I wrote an email to MLB Public Relations anyway. As I sit here writing this, I have yet to receive a reply.
All that being said, I have realized some things in life are outside my control, regardless of how ridiculous they seem. I will just have to deal with rarely seeing any televised Cardinals games. I feel for other fans who have moved from their beloved teams regional coverage, and are still blacked out. Hopefully those television providers, sports networks, and the MLB can come up with a better system for their blackout policies.
I realize this post has been a real sob story for yours truly. But really I just wanted to get that off my chest and warn anyone that wants to move to the Quad Cities that they will not have the availability to watch many Cardinals games unless they want to spend some money. Hopefully some of you can understand my pain, and mourn the loss of my beloved lawn gnome with me. He will be dearly missed, and will receive a proper burial tonight.
QUICK UPDATE: As of this morning (4-2-14), I now have FSMidwest. My provider decided to cut me a deal after I told them I was going to shop around. Happy day!!!