If you haven’t heard of the World Baseball Softball Confederation I don’t blame you. Despite how it presents itself, Major League Baseball is not the worldwide governing body for baseball. That responsibility resides with the WBSC out of Switzerland. The WBSC has only been in existence since 2013 and for the most part they have concerned themselves with the amateur game over the professional one. However, professional or amateur the WBSC is the governing body that countries answer to when it comes to baseball.
Since its inception, the WBSC has been unclear about how to treat professional baseball. The reason behind this is simple, they never wanted to step on MLB’s toes. While they supported professional baseball leagues in the Netherlands, Italy, and throughout the rest of the world their support was haphazard at best. They threw the majority of their resources behind the amateur game because that was a way to grow the game of baseball without threatening MLB.
The most the professional leagues could claim was that at times one of their games would end up being broadcast on WBSC’s website. That in itself spoke to how little actual support Riccardo Fraccari’s organization was willing to put behind the professional side of the game. The WBSC website would stream a game with almost no fanfare or advanced notice to fans that they were doing as such and then the game would quickly disappear from the website once it was over. Then last year something changed, the WBSC modified their multimedia arm, GameTime Sport, and started brokering deals to stream baseball and to archive those games on GameTime Sport’s YouTube channel.
At first most of their deals were with amateur organizations, then they signed a noteworthy deal that gave them exclusive international broadcast rights to Serie Nacional de Béisbol. Every day of the SNB season they would live stream one game and one game only. As GameTime Sports holds the official broadcast rights outside the island of Cuba this immediately killed off the numerous other streams of the Cuban league that were in existence at the time. On the surface it seemed like a great deal had been struck, but based on its results I had some concerns.
Fast forward a couple of months and the latest deal that GameTime Sports has put pen to paper on has me even more concerned. Fraccari’s media wing signed exclusive international broadcast rights with Liga de Béisbol Profesional Nacional out of Nicaragua. The details of their latest deal are that GameTime Sports will live stream, and then archive, two LBPN games a week. Once again, on the surface, it seems like this is a deal that signifies progress in baseball. Only, that progress means that a league where every game was once available to watch has now been limited to two a week.
It’s tough to ferret out what the goals are of the WBSC in these deals they are brokering. It might possibly be to create a central hub from which they can broadcast professional and amateur baseball. That is, on its own, an admirable goal. However, when that goal actually cuts off access to the sport then how admirable is that goal in reality? GameTime Sport has taken two of the larger Latin unaffiliated leagues and reduced the ability of people to watch those leagues. So far SNB has fully complied with the WBSC deal, meaning that instead of a multitude of SNB games being free and available to watch every day there is now only one. Various Nicaraguan television networks continue to stream their local broadcasts of games to an international audience, but I worry about WBSC stepping in and cutting off those streams as they violate the league’s contract with the WBSC.
Baseball is a great game, but it only remains a great game if people can watch the games. The international governing body of baseball signing contracts that limit the ability of fans to watch games is in no way good for the sport. It is, in actuality, limiting and damaging for the sport. I’m not sure if that was the intention of the WBSC with GameTime Sport, but it is what is happening. Either WBSC needs to rethink its current streaming model, or we need to accept that the WBSC is no different than MLB and does not have the best interests of the sport at the front of any of its decisions.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown