|Baseball and the Superstations||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 18, 2008
By FCC definition, a superstation is a licensed television broadcast station which is secondarily transmitted by a satellite carrier. That allowed the broadcasts to slide in beneath the tag of MLB broadcasting rights, as territories were defined for direct television and radio broadcasts, not coming in via a satellite or cable system which was simply relaying the feed. Thus stations like WOR in New York could broadcast the Mets across the country while SBK could broadcast the Red Sox into tens of thousands of homes in other team’s markets for many years.
Not surprisingly those broadcasts fell on baseball hungry eyes and ears, sometimes in areas where no major league team was within a few hundred miles, and sometimes when the nearest Major League stadium was just a few hundred feet away. At first, no one in baseball was too concerned about this. Satellite and cable television weren’t the norm; broadcast television was “the” medium for the game.
That was true and across the nation in cities where the Majors were, and the surrounding environs, teams from far away probably didn’t win too many converts, but in other areas, often far away from the ballparks of American and National League, this was the only connection to the highest levels of the National Pastime. And pockets of fandom sprung up rooting for this new local sports team broadcasting from thousands of miles away.
But this wasn’t just happening in the backwaters either. In New York when the Mets or Yankees were done, you could flip the channel to watch the Cubs, or White Sox, or the Braves. And if the local nine (ten for those of you in AL cities) was having a bad season, you had options of who to watch.
Today there are only six remaining superstations, and only three are airing baseball (two of the others being owned by the Tribune Corp who also own WGN) and all are showing far fewer games than before as rights to those games are being slowly transferred to local cable and satellite networks. WGN still broadcasts some Cubs and White Sox games, TBS still has a Sunday afternoon game and WOR now shares some of the Yankees games with YES (the Yankees Entertainment Network on cable), but that’s about all of the free out of market baseball still being broadcast.*
That’s why, in Baton Rouge, where the Astros are now on TV, you’ll still find enclaves of Cubs fans and Braves fans debating “curses” and division titles, and rooting for a home team, hundreds of miles away.
*The Cubs and White Sox will probably continue to broadcast in other markets for the foreseeable future as the Cubs are owned by their networks and the White Sox have a long term deal.