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MLB's blackout restrictions may be relaxed in 2015

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew
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With new commissioner Rob Manfred set to take over in January, a few changes in the landscape of Major League Baseball will likely soon follow. Among the first of those could be significant changes to baseball's blackout restrictions that currently affect streaming of games online and on mobile devices. 

According to Maury Brown of Forbes, MLB is close to relaxing those restrictions, possibly as soon as the 2015 season, which would be a welcome change for frustrated fans who have been affected. Naturally, though, there will be a few catches involved, as was explained by CEO of MLB Advanced Media Bob Bowman. 

From The Associated Press:

In an interview this week, Bob Bowman said he is optimistic that a deal could be reached soon with various cable operators, channels and ballclubs. The catch is that even with an MLB.TV subscription, which starts at $20 a month, fans will also need a cable or satellite TV subscription to view hometown teams at home.

"Everyone's trying to solve it," Bowman said. "If our hands were 4 feet apart three or four years ago, they are now 6 inches apart," Bowman said. "We're moving in the right way. We continue to talk. The dialogue is professional."

It's also warned that not every network will agree to participate, meaning blackouts will likely continue in some markets. 

It's not likely to be perfect, at least not initially, but it sounds as though definite progress is expected to be made. As it stands right now, games involving hometown teams are blocked online, regardless of where they are played, because networks that are ponying up millions of dollars in rights fees don't want to lose audiences to online and mobile services. Making money is the name of the game, so it's understandable why they'd take that stance. However, in some cases these blackouts are extending to areas in which those networks aren't even available, which is of no benefit to anyone.

For example, if you want to watch a St. Louis Cardinals game in northern Illinois, games are not available on TV, and in many areas are also blacked out online as the Cardinals have claimed territorial rights.

That's just one example of a place where fans have been frustrated. If you're in a similar situation, feel free to share it in the comments. We know it's been a widespread issue, and some of the scenarios involving blackouts have been quite absurd.

Here's more from Bowman.

"If they were easy to resolve, then somebody would have done it, and if it didn't matter, then it would have been resolved," Bowman said. "In the end, we all want the same thing regardless of which side of the table you're on. We all want somebody to be able to turn on a laptop or turn on a phone and see a live game in-market."

Here's hoping a big first step is taken in 2015, and those who don't agree initially slowly come around and find a deal that works for them so we can put baseball's blackouts behind us and enjoy baseball as it's meant to be enjoyed in 2015 and beyond.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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