I am currently reading a Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball. The title pretty clearly explains what it’s about. In one of the early chapters I came across a little tidbit of information that I found to be rather amusing:
When a Western Union operator tried to enter the grounds, [Charles] Comiskey refused to let him in. He was concerned that if men could sit in saloons and restaurants and pool halls and read the play-by-play action, they wouldn’t go to games. Ban Johnson agreed and urged all his clubs to do the same.
To give it some context, this comes from a paragraph describing Opening Day for the first year of the White Stockings franchise in 1900.
Ownership has a long history of being worried about new forms of media cannibalizing their attendance and in-park profits. Baseball was rather slow to adopt radio and TV, with most owners not immediately seeing the benefits from exposure and instead worrying about attendance numbers.
Things are obviously different now with the money that teams get from TV contracts, and since people still go to baseball games in large numbers (or modest to large depending on the team and their circumstances, I should say) I guess none of these things destroyed the sport.
In fact, we should all be rather glad that TV turned out the way it did since the huge success of MLB on TV has helped to shape current thinking that it’s better to distribute the games to as large an audience as possible. Extra Innings and MLB.TV exist because they generate money for Major League Baseball through both subscriptions and ad sales,
The blackout restrictions baseball has to deal with now come from cable providers and networks who are worried about their ratings and in the case of cable TV, their subscription numbers. And yes, many of the rules around the blackouts make no sense and probably actively cost MLB a decent chunk of change which is why MLB is looking into ways to loosen them. And I do actually believe the Commissioner’s Office when they say that they want to fix the blackout restrictions so that they make more sense, because they are trying to make as much money as possible by having as many subscribers as possible.
As a footnote to the Western Union ban at Western/American League games, it didn’t take very long for Ban Johnson and company to do a 180. By the time Connie Mack was starting up the Athletics for the 1901 season, teams were actively soliciting and setting up contracts with WU to do play-by-play telegraphs. It’s amusing that the same scenario was repeated three times before they finally just realized it was good for them from the onset.