With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, sports have become obsolete. The Oklahoma City Thunder team doctor ran on the court to cancel the Jazz-Thunder game back on March 11, effectively ending sports across the continent. In a snap, the NBA and NHL had postponed their seasons – which were weeks away from concluding – and MLB delayed their opening day. Sports fans have been hankering for something, anything to help distract them during this difficult time. Low and behold, the KBO League (KBO 리그).
With ESPN’s announcement early Monday morning that they will be broadcasting one live KBO game a day, thousands of baseball fans were thrown into a frenzy. Looking for any form of baseball, American fans took to finding their KBO team to root for. The LG Twins, already one of the most popular KBO teams, found a niche in the American fanbase. I declared my fanhood to the Kiwoom Heroes. Led by one of the best young players in the KBO in Kim Ha-Seong and former Twin Park Byung-Ho, the Heroes took two out of three in the first series of the year against the KIA Tigers.
After watching the first two games live-streamed on Twitch, I was hooked. “Baseball is back, baby!” I thought to myself, as I set my 7:00 AM alarm to get up for the final half of the third game of the season. But when I woke up and tried to pull up the Twitch stream, I was alerted that the content was no longer available in my region. Turns out, the KBO accidentally showed the first two games of the year in America. They swiftly banned their streaming in the US, showing that baseball leagues across the world have no idea how to market their product.
One of the biggest issues with MLB today is their ridiculous blackout rules. I’m sure you’re familiar, but if not, the rules state that fans cannot stream live games through their MLB.tv subscription unless they are out of their area. Meaning fans of teams that, play in their hometown (or the surrounding areas), must pay for cable or another streaming service like Hulu Live or Sling to watch their favorite team play. These rules can be accredited to the networks wanting exclusive rights over their region, but MLB has done little to fight them. As the league attempts to “grow the game,” all they’re doing is slowing it down. Now, the KBO is making the same mistakes as MLB.
The KBO is faced with an amazing opportunity that few sports leagues will ever get. They are, literally, the first sport back. They have a captive audience. With a lack of competition, the KBO should be using this opportunity to try and poach some fans of MLB. It’s unlikely they move Americans away from MLB forever – with start times ranging between 1 and 5:30 AM EST – but at the very least, the KBO can be the league for the time being. Rooting for a sports team is a lifelong gig, and if KBO can turn into the wake up and watch league for Americans for these next few months, they will undoubtedly add thousands of fans.
However, it’s hard to do that when the league isn’t allowing Americans to watch. That’s an entire part of the term “wake up and watch”. I was excited to set my alarm every single day to get up to see my Kiwoom Heroes in action. But without the live stream, the honeymoon of having sports back will be over very soon. American baseball fans are into the KBO. They’ve found a new niche. But if the only way to watch is to follow pitch-by-pitch on the fantastic website mykbostats.com, the league is going to miss out on a great opportunity to expand. And just like that, the question has been presented. Will the league stop these restrictions and open up to the Americas, or will they take a note from MLBs playbook, and destroy their best shot at expansion in the history of the league?