08 May 2014

How the New York Times Baseball Map Hurts MASN

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.


Fruitland Generic Citizen said...

And Accomack County has a whopping 33,000 people in it.

Jon Shepherd said...

Which is about 15k in profit. Have to keep those pitchers full of iced water with cucumber slices. Refreshing.

Matt Perez said...

Highland County had a population of 2,215 in 2013 or about a thousand households. Figure 700 households have cable or so which means MASN would receive about 14thousand in revenue. Compared to that Accomack County is huge.

But yeah, MASN can broadcast to areas where there is limited interest for only so long. Eventually stations are going to decide its not worth their while.

Peatwo said...

Silly me. I forgot that I had to "like" a team on facebook to prove I'm a fan. I've been a season ticket holder for at least 10 years of my life, and have been to 100s of games. I DVR or watch every Orioles game in a given season... but none of this matters. It's whether I FB "like" them or not. That's the sign of a true fan, and should be the only relevant number used for running statistical analysis.

Matt Perez said...

It's possible that none of that does matter.

The FCC determined that MASN wasn't must-see programming in North Carolina due in part to two surveys showing that the Orioles and Nationals didn't have much popularity. One survey measured 500 North Carolina sports fans and another measured only 100.


If a survey measuring such a small sample size is relevant in court then the facebook data will be far more relevant. After all, I'm sure there's more than 500 baseball fans in North Carolina.

Perhaps you should consider creating a facebook account?

Jon Shepherd said...

Also...keep in mind a survey is not often a full accounting of individuals. Facebook is simply being used as a gathering device. It may well be that Orioles fans for some reason abhor Facebook. That would be an interesting finding. I do not know why they would.

Unknown said...

Nice article. I grew up in Lebanon, PA and that's Phillies country, with a couple of Pirates and Yankees fans. I was surprised a couple of years ago when my parents told me they got MASN up there.

Anonymous said...

While a count of Facebook likes may reflect some or little interest in watching baseball games on tv, I would rather trust the results of a properly designed and executed survey. Several of my friends and co-workers and I are avid baseball fans (and actually watch games on tv as well as at the ballpark on occasion), practically none of us uses Facebook. This makes me question whether Facebook users as a group are very representative of the viewing public. Furthermore, from what I understand, Facebook users often "like" something in order to enter a contest, receive a coupon/discount or some other benefit, so I also question whether Facebook "likes" accurately reflect a person's true interests (plus, see Peatwo's comment).

Matt Perez said...

Thanks Nate. The Orioles are fortunate that the York DMA (designated media area) includes Lebanon and Harrisburg. Even though Lebanon County is closer to the Phillies I believe that Harrisburg is closer to the Orioles.

Jon - I do wonder if older fans are more likely to like the Orioles than younger fans and therefore the results have some bias. Younger people are more likely to use facebook after all. I don't think the bias really matters.

In most of these counties the Orioles had single digit popularity at best. Even if they're really twice or triple as popular as the Facebook data indicates they still would be the favorite team of less than 20% of fans.

Anonymous - The NY Times wouldn't have used Facebook data if they thought it was junk.

It's not just about interest in watching games on TV. Nielsen already measures that. It's about interest in the teams in the area.

The two surveys quoted in the court case between Time Warner and MASN surveyed 500 and 100 people respectively. The FCC quoted them in their decision.

The Orioles have 750,000 fans on Facebook. The Dodgers has 2.25 million fans. I'm not going through each team but a large number of baseball fans are on Facebook and have liked one team. The number of baseball fans in North Carolina that like a team on Facebook is probably at least 100,000. Wouldn't be shocked if it's over a million.

Since the two surveys listed above were quoted by the FCC then the Facebook data is going to be considered. The fact that the NY Times made an interactive map with the data only strengthens its credibility. Given that there are so few Orioles/Nationals fans it's likely that no argument of bias will matter.

I do agree that a professional survey would be more credible. But it's obviously not going to turn out well for MASN.

Unknown said...

It's hard to measure the depth of support for the Orioles/Nationals in the Norfolk/etc. area for several reasons. First and foremost is that because the area is so heavily dependent on the military, there are a number of people here from other places and who don't intend to be here permanently. And those temporary inhabitants are more likely to be represented on a Facebook summary like this because they are mobile and rely on Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. It would be more noteworthy to see the fan breakdown of "permanent" residents.

Also, there are a still-large but presumably declining percentage of Mets fans in the area because Norfolk was the AAA affiliate of the Mets for 30-plus years. I know of a lot of fans who were upset that the Tides chose to affiliate with the Orioles; presumably as time passes there will be fewer of them.

I may be wrong on this, but I think the far northeastern section of North Carolina - where Norfolk is the local television station - does get MASN via Cox. Also, I believe that the far western areas of Virginia and North Carolina are closer to Cincinnati than to Washington or Baltimore.

Matt Perez said...

I agree it's hard to measure the depth of support but the Braves are the third most popular team with 9% of support from fans. The Orioles at best have 8% support. If the locals make up half the population then the Orioles at best have 16% support from them. That's still not particularly good.

Residents in the northeast part of North Carolina do get MASN via Charter and Mediacom. The FCC stated the reason why they did was due to all of the vacationers coming from Baltimore and DC. The FCC said nothing about Cox but it would make sense to include them in that category.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those Orioles fans in North Carolina(Only because Im from Delaware). I waited forever for the court case to be resolved, but I finally switch the Time Warner for Direct TV. I'm in Wilmington,NC and there is very little interest in baseball generally here. Lot of Yankees and Red Sox fans very few Braves fans, and that is about it. It's NFL and College Basketball. With NBA, baseball, college football, and NASCAR a distant third.

Chris P said...

Lets all remember that the percentage of O's fans is going to be low because the O's have sucked for a really long time. Until recently it's just been us die-hard's. So expecting them to have a decent fan base outside the md/dc area is a little hard. I can tell you that the Norfolk area is coming around and I know more and more casual fans who are becoming Orioles fans in that location.

Matt Perez said...

Fully agree that the Orioles and Nationals not being competitive have hurt their popularity. If they were more successful perhaps more fans would be interested in baseball.

Thing is, the court system and media won't be sympathetic. Cable Providers don't want to pay a lot of money for an RSN that is unpopular unless it's their RSN (i.e CSN Philadelphia, CSN Mid-Atlantic, etc etc).