MLB TV review: Stellar baseball streaming hampered by blackout restrictions


For out-of-market baseball fans, MLB.TV is the only game in town to follow your favorite team night in and night out. As a Cincinnati Reds fan living in New England, I’d be able to watch only a handful of Reds games during the season — on the rare occasion when my small-market team makes an appearance on national television — were it not for MLB.TV. With the service, I’m able to watch nearly every one of the Reds’ 162 games from April to October, along with other out-of-market games every day of baseball’s regular season.

LikeWide device supportEasy access to in-game statsChoose your own audio feed.Smooth streaming

Don’t LikeBlackout restrictions can be frustrating.Inconsistent experience across devices.

At $130 for the year, MLB.TV is too pricey for casual fans but certainly worth it for serious baseball geeks who live outside their team’s home market. And that’s the catch. For fans of the local team — say a Red Sox fan living in New England, a Dodgers fan in LA — subscribing to MLB.TV makes little sense. That’s because your local team’s games are blacked out on MLB.TV, which means you’d be better served with cable or a live TV streaming service, like AT&T TV, Fubo or YouTube TV, that includes the regional sports network (RSN) that carries the games. 

Read more: MLB baseball streaming 2021: Watch your team’s games this season, no cable required

Not only are your local team’s games unavailable on MLB.TV, but nationally televised games also fall prey to blackout restrictions. Games on ESPN, Fox, FS1, MLB Network and TBS are blacked out on MLB.TV, which can be terribly disappointing when you attempt to tune into a game and are greeted with the blackout notice. It’s even worse for fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and other big-market teams that are on national TV seemingly every week and, thus, constantly blacked out on MLB.TV. Even if you think you are sold on the service, be sure to peep your team’s national broadcast schedule before subscribing so you don’t find yourself singing the blackout restriction blues before the ivy turns green at Wrigley.

If you’re an out-of-market baseball fan willing to put up with the blackout restrictions, however, you’ll find plenty to like about MLB.TV. The live game streams are steady and smooth with few dropouts in my experience. They feature informative, easy-to-access stat overlays that enhance the viewing experience. From iPhones and tablets to PCs and TVs, there’s broad hardware support so you can tune into games no matter where you are. And you can listen to radio broadcasts with MLB.TV, which I’d say would be useless for every sport other than baseball.

Check out the MLB.TV app on iPad, phones and TV streamers
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In short, MLB.TV makes it possible and enjoyable to follow your favorite baseball team when you live far away from it. Being able to watch games live almost every day of the six-month season and hear your team’s announcers, the home crowd and even local ads connects you to your team. And after a year of chaos, pandemic and lockdowns, a summer of baseball could be just what the doctor ordered.

MLB.TV subscription options and extras

There are three ways to subscribe to MLB.TV:

Pay $130 to be able to watch out-of-market games live or on-demand. You can watch replays of your local team’s games, but there’s a 90-minute delay from the final out before the archived stream is available. Archived games are available sooner for out-of-market teams.Pay $110 to be able to watch a single, out-of-market team live or on-demand. If you’re only interested in watching your favorite team play, then this plan can save you a few bucks. You sacrifice, however, the ability to switch over to a potential no-hitter in progress elsewhere or any other exciting matchup or moment that does not involve your team. I spend 95% of the time watching Reds games, but I still pay the extra $20 for the full package because FOMO is a real thing.Pay $25 per month to be able to watch out-of-market games live or on-demand. This is a good option if you have doubts about your team contending this year and can see your attention waning along with your team’s chances by midseason. 

You can pay by the month or for the full season.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With MLB.TV, you can also listen to home and away radio broadcasts. And baseball is one of the few sports, if not the only, that’s enjoyable to listen to on the radio. And some rare good news for the in-market fan: MLB.TV’s radio broadcasts aren’t subject to the blackout rule, so you can listen to your local team’s games live. 

MLB.TV also includes a ton of video content, including classic games, baseball documentaries and old This Week in Baseball episodes. This year, a new show called Big Inning made its debut for MLB.TV subscribers. Starting at 9:30 p.m. ET each weekday night, Big Inning will offer live look-ins across all the games in action as well as highlights as they happen. It’ll feel similar to the NFL’s RedZone channel that jumps around the league’s game on Sunday afternoons.

MLB.TV is also adding pre- and post-game coverage this year, which is a welcome addition. After a big Reds win, I’m pumped up and ready to hear interviews and analysis, but my MLB.TV feed gets abruptly cut off before the on-field celebrations are complete. It’ll be a slow rollout with one or two clubs offering pre- and post-game coverage to start the season before being added to more than half the clubs by midseason, according to MLB. As with the games themselves, the pre- and post-game coverage will be available only to out-of-market viewers.

Two types of blackouts

MLB.TV lets you watch every game of the regular season that’s outside of your local TV market and also not on national TV. As a resident of New England, for example, I cannot watch Boston Red Sox games live on MLB.TV. Since the team I follow is a small market team that has not had much success in recent years, it is not picked for national broadcasts with any great frequency. As a result, I rarely encounter a Reds game blacked out on MLB.TV. I’d imagine the blackout restriction is much more frustrating to fans of successful, big-market teams, since their teams are shown regularly on ESPN and other national broadcasts. 

These blackout restrictions mean an MLB TV subscriber is either an out-of-market fan like me who can’t watch his or her favorite team in-market, or a hardcore baseball fan who wants to watch even more baseball than what they can get from their local and national TV broadcasts. Were I not a subscriber to MLB.TV, I would need to subsist all summer long on box scores, highlights and the rare Reds national broadcast to follow my team.

Watch (and listen) on just about any device

No matter how big a fan I am or how much I enjoy streaming games on MLB.TV, I have neither the time nor the inclination to watch nine innings of baseball every night. My favorite part about MLB.TV is its wide device support that lets me catch parts of a game while I go about my day and evening. 

I watch a few innings on the iPad in the kitchen while making dinner and a few more innings after dinner on my laptop when my son is playing on my iPad. And perhaps the last few outs on the big screen via my Apple TV. And when I can’t watch, I listen to the Reds’ radio call on my phone when I take the dog out for her evening stroll or during weekend yard work, which just so happens to coincide with Sunday day games.

MLB.TV offers broad hardware support.

Sarah Tew/CNET

MLB.TV is part of the free MLB app, which is available on a slew of devices, from phones and tablets to computers and game consoles to streaming boxes and smart TVs. Here’s the full list:

Mac and Windows PCsiOS and Android phones and tabletsRoku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast streaming devicesPS4, PS5 and Xbox One game consolesSamsung smart TVsXfinity Flex

You can get more details, including system requirements and specifics on supported models, on this MLB.com support page. 

I tested MLB.TV on the devices I usually use to watch games: iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro and Apple TV. I also checked out MLB.TV on my Roku TV and a Windows PC.

Stat overlays and radio feeds

My preferred device for watching MLB.TV is the iPad. All devices give you access to stat overlays, but the iPad’s implementation is best. Swipe from the left edge and you can see a pitch-by-pitch summary of the game. Swipe from the right edge for the box score. A two-finger tap brings up both info panels along with scores of all the games along the top edge and a game-status panel along the bottom edge. 

Stat overlays work well on the roomy iPad screen.

Matt Elliott/CNET

You get similar overlays on a phone, but there’s only two and the box score panel that slides up from the bottom edge blocks most of the screen. On an iPad, you can call up all four panels and can still see most of the game going on in the middle of the screen. On a PC, there’s only a single stat panel that you can toggle on and off on the right edge of the player. 

MLB.TV lets you watch the home or away video feed so you can listen to your team’s announcers. And should you prefer your team’s radio announcers to the TV announcers, you can change the audio feed so you can listen to the radio call while still watching the video stream. 

The ability to choose my audio feed is one of my favorite features.

Matt Elliott/CNET

Watching MLB.TV on an Apple TV has a benefit not offered on my other devices, including Roku. On the Apple TV, when you tune into a game in progress, you are given three options: Catch Up, Start from Beginning and Watch Live. The last two are self-explanatory, and the first is the option I usually select. It gives you 90 seconds of highlights from the action you missed before taking you to the live feed. On Roku, you can only join live or start from the beginning.

The Apple TV app has a cool catch-up feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As much as I like watching on the iPad, there’s no option to start watching a game other than to join it live. Why can’t every device offer the three options as Apple TV when I go to tune into a game that’s already in progress?

On all my devices and using both wired and wireless network connections, games streamed smoothly. They occasionally get choppy when on Wi-Fi, but such instances lasted only a few seconds or a minute at most before returning to HD clarity. A few seasons ago, I would avoid watching on my Apple TV because the video quality looked poor when displayed on my HDTV, but now streaming games on MLB.TV on my TV look no different than watching a game on ESPN on my TV via YouTube TV.

Ad-free highlights, repetitive ads during games

When I miss a game, I can watch the Game Recap highlight package on MLB.TV the next morning or a slightly longer Condensed Game. Each shows plays from the game without additional commentary; you hear the call from either the home or away announcer. There is also a collection of individual highlights you can fire up to see the big hits and outstanding defensive plays.

When watching highlights, as a subscriber you do not need to sit through ads. The highlights play immediately, letting you jump from one to another without the fear of an ad inserting itself in the middle of your review of the previous night’s game. Individual highlights are also available during a live game on about an inning-or-so delay.

You will see ads during the usual commercial breaks between innings and during pitching changes of live games, and they will get repetitive. We are not even a week into the season and I can safely say I’ve seen the ad for Duluth Trading Co. underwear enough times to last all summer. On the other hand, I never grow tired of hearing ad reads for Skyline Chili during Reds games even though each mention of Cincinnati’s unusual take on chili makes me wish I were back in the Queen City.

Beware big-market blackouts

For diehard baseball fans who don’t live near their favorite team, an MLB.TV subscription is the only way to follow your team day in and day out over the course of the long, 162-game, six-month season. I don’t take advantage of any of the extra video content and still think my subscription is money well spent just for the ability to tune into nearly every game live on TV or the radio and hear the Reds announcers no matter if my team is playing at home or on the road. My only word of caution is for out-of-market fans of big-market teams. 

You access MLB.TV via the free MLB app, but be sure to check out how the blackout restrictions affect the team you follow before subscribing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Baseball’s inequity between big- and small-market teams makes it difficult to be a fan of a small-market club like the Cincinnati Reds because my team loses its young stars as they enter their prime and misses out on free agents to big-market teams that can hand out huge contract after huge contract. An MLB.TV subscription might be the only thing in baseball where it’s an advantage to be a small-market fan. 

To fans of the Yankees, Dodgers and other big-spending, big-market teams, I would say enjoy your team’s abundance of pitching, your deep lineup, your regular postseason appearances but be sure to check its national TV broadcast schedule before subscribing to MLB.TV. There’s not another option for out-of-market baseball fans that delivers the sheer volume of baseball of MLB.TV, but a Yankees fan who lives far from the Bronx, for example, might be able to satisfy their fandom with a pay TV service that includes ESPN, Fox, FS1, MLB Network and TBS instead — the channels that regularly show your team’s games that are blacked out on MLB.TV.



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