This perhaps isn’t the time to complain. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a bit of normalcy has returned in the world of sports as it appears the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be behind us. We have Braves baseball with fans in the stands and a 2021 regular season slated to run a full 162 games. Atlanta started 0-4 on the field, but I’ll take a four-game losing streak over no baseball at all… any day of the week.

If you can look past the poor start to the season, as well as the ridiculous decision to strip the city of Atlanta of the 2021 All-Star game and draft, everything is looking much better for those of us who’re fans of the game. But there’s still just one major problem that’s becoming impossible to ignore: a lot of Braves fans can’t even watch the damn team play!

After YouTube TV, Hulu, FuboTV, and Sling TV (essentially all streaming services) all dropped the 21 Fox-named regional sports networks (or RSNs), nowadays only those of you with an AT&T TV subscription can legitimately watch the Braves on live TV. Although at $85 per month for AT&T’s sports package, you might as well opt for the old fashion cable box, which is really amazing given that just a few years ago, $20 got you a Sling TV subscription — featuring FOX Sports, FX, AMC, and many more channels. 

Fortunately, thanks to those willing to take the time, fans within the Braves community are working hard to help share their stream of the games. At the Facebook group Tomahawk Talk, nearly every Braves game is streamed live for all of its members — most impressively, at a very high quality. Because I no longer have a cable provider user name at my disposal (mom and dad finally cut the cord too!), I’ve depended on Tomahawk Talk for all six of Atlanta’s games so far this season. But who knows how long such a thing will be available. Companies like Charter Spectrum have begun cracking down on sharing subscription log-ins in recent years. What happens when they figure out a way to put a stop to these group streams?

But with its recent naming-rights acquisition and partnership with network owner Sinclair, Bally Sports actually has a chance to improve the TV experience for Braves fans and all other sports the company affiliates with. The casino operator purchased the FOX name from Sinclair for $85 million back in November of last year. The deal is for ten years and comes with a ton of gambling integration possibilities as betting continues to evolve into a more “acceptable” way to enjoy sports. Starting back on March 31st, the full re-branding from FOX Sports to Bally Sports had been completed, and a new era is hopefully underway. 

Although, first, Bally Sports needs to ensure its fans can actually view the product.

Regardless of your view on the topic, in-game betting and other gambling features will revolutionize the way fans watch sports, and more importantly, how networks generate revenue. It would naturally seem logical that Bally Sports’ best interest is for complete and total access. Completely disregarding a rather large portion of fans every single day can’t be a good business model long-term, especially for a company literally in the business of trying to generate the largest audience it possibly can. 

With that being said, the current economics exists for a reason: it benefits the companies that establish them. As much as cord-cutters like myself hope for an affordable way to stream my favorite team, it certainly won’t happen if it doesn’t make sense for Sinclair or Bally Sports financially. Hell, Bally Sports strategy could even be the exact opposite of “more access” for cord-cutters, hoping that its in-game gambling features will potentially push more of us to go ahead and subscribe to cable. It’s not often that a company leaves money on the table just because its users want them to. 

But I’m remaining optimistic for now. There must be a way to make baseball (and all sports) more accessible on a regional level, in a way that benefits both the companies that provide the service as well as the fans that use it. It’s already a complete travesty that certain areas of the country are currently unable to watch numerous MLB games per day due to blackouts. Everyone should have access to the sport without being charged ridiculous cable prices or being forced to commit to contracts. 

We’ll see what happens as Bally Sports begins announcing its plans in the future. Still, if it can’t address something so simple as generating more viewers, then I’m afraid the negative narrative surrounding MLB will, unfortunately, continue to grow.

This article first appeared on SportsTalkATL and was syndicated with permission.

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