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Fans right to be mad about lack of broadcast, streaming Orioles games

The end to a Baltimore TV tradition that dates to 1954, when the Orioles’ first home game was played on WMAR, is the result of a decision made by MASN.

The reaction to news that MASN was no longer going to allow the Orioles to be seen on local over-the-air TV this year was swift and mainly one-sided on social media.

You don’t break a 64-year-old tradition in a city that honors its past as Baltimore does with a three-sentence statement that offers no explanation for the move.

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“How awful for Orioles fans,” wrote Janet Webb on Twitter.

“This is just plain stupid marketing,” H. Nicole Anderson said in a tweet.

On Facebook, Jeffrey Werner faulted the Angelos family that owns the team — and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

“Shame on the Angelos's for forcing people to purchase MASN and MASN2 just to watch the games,” Werner wrote.

“I think I am going to cancel my package after Opening Day,” he continued. “Opening Day has always been a tradition that many, who do not have the MASN paid package, get to watch on Local TV.”

The reaction was the same in email.

“What a bummer for fans who can’t afford cable,” wrote Howard Bluth. “The national pastime is now available only to those with enough money. For shame.”

There were two positive responses in emails to me. They struck the same theme.

In one, Stephanie and Mike Bagley wrote, “This is how salaries are paid, players are re-signed, the ballpark is maintained ... enabling our O's to remain competitive on the field with other teams especially the big market teams in our own American East division such as the Yankees and Red Sox.”

“We understand this and have no problem with the team's decision to exclusively carry all games on MASN,” they added.

I understand that point of view. Everyone in the media business is trying to find sustainable business models in the midst of epic technological and lifestyle changes. Everyone is trying to find ways to monetize their content to the point where they can make a winning product and a profit.

That’s good business.

But this move of totally taking the Orioles off broadcast TV strikes me as possibly being bad business in a couple of ways.

Based on the responses to my reports on the move, some longtime, loyal O’s fans are upset and maybe even hurt by this move.

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Older Baltimore viewers, some of whom do not have cable, have come to expect the O’s on broadcast TV. You risk alienating them.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, you risk losing members of the younger, cord-cutting audience when you don’t allow in-market livestreaming of the games, as was the policy last season on MASN for the O’s and the Nationals — two of only three teams that did not allow such a viewing option. (The third is the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

“It looks like MASN wasn't particularly interested in contributing to your article, other than a boringly worded statement from what must have been written by at least five lawyers,” wrote Kevin Okun, who identified in his email as a 37-year-old cord cutter with multiple streaming services. “What a shame, because readers of the paper like me are very interested in how baseball would like to be part of the vernacular on the internet.”

Jeff Barker, who covers sports business for The Baltimore Sun, reported MASN’s refusal to let Baltimore fans livestream O’s games in a deep dive on the O’s and livestreaming last year at this time.

I have been trying since Tuesday with MASN and MLB.com to determine on the record if the policy that precluded Baltimore fans from livestreaming the O’s home games has changed this year. Neither would discuss it.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation did confirm that the policy remains in effect: Twenty-seven teams will allow livestreaming this season, but not the two on MASN.

Gee, I don’t know why fans in Baltimore and Washington should feel they are getting worse media treatment than fans elsewhere.

MASN did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking explanation of the decision to remove all games from broadcast TV.

By way of comparison, CBS Sports, a national sports network as opposed to regional one like MASN, responded in a matter of minutes at 10 p.m. on a recent Friday when I had questions about coverage of UMBC in the NCAA basketball tournament. And the response was from a network VP.

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, has been far more responsive and open than anyone at MASN in discussing and explaining decisions that affect what Baltimore fans see or don’t see on his network.

The great companies that have lasted over the years have always balanced the drive for profits with public service, especially those owned by families that have made their fortunes in a particular city and have deep roots there.

Depriving cable-less O’s fans of a chance to connect with their team and the community through a ritual like Opening Day feels so wrong in terms of public service.

This is part of how citizens wind up feeling alienated and disconnected from the civic life of a place like Baltimore. And that feeling is only intensified when the institution that denies them a chance to participate through broadcast TV offers no clear explanation for why it was done.

The O’s and MASN don’t owe me an explanation — no matter how many times I call or email on behalf of our readers.

But they do owe their fans, especially those who have stuck with them through thick and thin since 1954, like H. Nicole Anderson.

They owe them something better than two sentences saying: “As the network that produces and airs all available Orioles games, MASN and MASN2 will now be the exclusive channels to watch Orioles baseball in the Mid-Atlantic region. Also for the first time, MASN and MASN2 will be the only channels where you can watch each 'O's Xtra' pregame and postgame shows.”

Go, O’s.

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