The New York Times recently published an interactive map showing the percentage of Facebook fans for a given baseball team in a zip code or county. At first glance it looks pretty neat but it has negative consequences for MASN and by extension the Nationals and Orioles. In order to understand this it is necessary to look at two court cases.
The first court case was between Time Warner and MASN. Time Warner is the primary cable provider in North Carolina. Time Warner refused to carry MASN because the Orioles and Nationals had little popularity in North Carolina despite being considered the hometown teams. After years of court cases, the FCC agreed with Time Warner and allowed them not to carry MASN. If Time Warner was able to refuse to carry MASN in areas where the Orioles and Nationals weren’t popular then why can’t other providers do the same?
The second court case was between Comcast and MASN. Comcast didn’t want to carry MASN in parts of the Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, Tri-Cities TN-VA and Roanoke-Lynchburg Virginia areas. Comcast and MASN ultimately agreed to compromise. Comcast would broadcast MASN in those areas but wouldn’t pay any damages for refusing MASN carriage in earlier years. The reasoning why Comcast didn’t want to broadcast MASN isn’t important. What’s important is that they didn’t want to broadcast MASN in those regions.
If Comcast and other providers can prove using this map that the Orioles and Nationals have a limited fan base in certain areas where they are broadcast then they may want to revisit the decision to carry MASN in those areas. This is especially true for Comcast in the areas where they originally didn’t intend to carry MASN but were forced to do so in court.
The Orioles/Nationals media territory encompasses all of Maryland; Virginia; the District; Delaware; seven counties in West Virginia; 13 counties and three cities — York, Lancaster and Harrisburg — in central Pennsylvania; and most of central and eastern North Carolina. The territory can be seen on this map submitted in court testimony.
Unfortunately, the New York Times new interactive tool shows that there are a limited number of Orioles and Nationals fans in parts of this territory.
In Pennsylvania, the Orioles are the most popular team in Franklin, Adams, York and Fulton counties. They are one of the three most popular teams in Bedford and Cumberland counties. York, Adams, Franklin and Cumberland counties are all considered part of the DC/Baltimore inner region where MASN charges its largest subscriber fee. Fulton and Bedford counties are not in the Orioles/Nationals media territory. This is good news because the Orioles can justify having these counties as part of the DC/Baltimore inner region due to their high popularity.
The bad news is that the Orioles aren’t one of the three most popular teams in any other county in Pennsylvania. Fewer than 6% of baseball fans in Lancaster County, 8% of baseball fans in Lebanon Country and 9% of baseball fans in Dauphin County (where Harrisburg is located) are Orioles fans. Since the New York Times tool only shows the popularity of the three most popular teams it is impossible to tell how popular the Orioles are in those counties but it is probable that the Orioles have single digit popularity in every other county in the DMA aside from the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Neither the Orioles nor Nationals are considered one of three most popular teams in any county in North Carolina. This indicates that fewer than 10% of baseball fans in any county in North Carolina are fans of the Orioles or Nationals. Times Warner has 1.4 million cable subscribers in North Carolina and if the Orioles or Nationals were more popular than MASN could argue that Time Warner is discriminating against them by refusing them carriage. Unfortunately, this map just strengthens Time Warner’s position.
However, what’s more shocking is the limited number of Nationals and Orioles fans in Virginia. Highland County is the only county in the Roanoke-Lynchburg DMA where the Nationals or Orioles are one of the three most popular teams. In Highland County, the Orioles have a 12% popularity rate. The only county in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News DMA where the Orioles or Nationals are one of the three most popular teams is Accomack County where the Orioles are the most popular team. The Orioles or Nationals aren’t one of the three most popular teams in any county in the Tri-States DMA. The Orioles and Nationals are more popular in the Richmond-Petersburg DMA. There are a number of counties bordering the Washington DC/Hagerstown DMA where the Orioles and Nationals are one of the three most popular teams. In the central and southern part of the DMA, the Nationals or Orioles aren’t one of the three most popular teams in any of the counties. Neither the Orioles nor Nationals are popular in Central or Southern Virginia. There is some good news. The Orioles are popular in the Harrisonburg DMA while the Nationals are popular in the Charlottesville DMA. Likewise, the Orioles and Nationals are popular in the Baltimore, Salisbury and Washington DC-Hagerstown DMA.
There are 670,000 cable and satellite households in the Norfolk DMA, 525,000 cable and satellite households in the Richmond DMA, 420,000 households in the Roanoke-Lynchburg DMA, 303,000 households in the Tri Cities DMA, 680,000 households in the Harrisburg DMA and nearly 3 million cable and satellite households in North Carolina. Many of these households do not currently receive MASN. Some of these households live in counties where one of the Orioles or Nationals is popular. But if Comcast, Cox and other cable providers decide that it doesn’t make sense to pay the current rates for MASN in regions where the Nationals and Orioles have single digit popularity then it could cost MASN millions of dollars each year in subscriber fees.
It’s hard to quantify an exact number that MASN could lose if this happens. The Nationals and Orioles are still popular in their core media regions where they charge their subscribers the largest monthly subscriber fee and where they receive most of their revenue. As a result, I doubt that MASN would be unprofitable even if cable providers refused carriage to MASN in regions where neither team is popular. But I do think that it would cause MASN to become less profitable and therefore weaken the Orioles and Nationals position.
This interactive map looks nice. It is possible to learn a lot from it. But it has huge implications that could end up hurting MASN.