Of all the industries you’d expect to win a patent for geolocation, baseball would not be top of the list. But MLBAM has done just that, intending to black-out the online broadcast of both live and on-demand games down to zip code level in order to protect local TV networks’ rights. The association already lets only fans outside of their local cable operator’s area view matches on MLB.tv – MLB confirmed to us the patent is designed to enhance the accuracy with which it can black out viewers inside those areas. How it may affect others doing geolocation is unclear for now.
According to patent 7,486,943, claimed to be a first for the game: “The system is designed to determine if a customer can view a specific event based on the customer’s geographical location … Games may not be broadcast to persons located in a geographical area proximate the event. Such games may be ‘blacked out’ from view by local audiences if tickets are still available for purchase to attend the event in person … For example, a baseball game for the New York Yankees may not be viewed by audiences via the internet in the local New York telecast area or in Japan, at any point during the actual game.”
Specifically, the method uses data from existing geolocation specialist Quova to analzse a web user’s location – if the result doesn’t fall within a specified confidence threshold, the system carries out further tests using any data available on the MLB record, like PayPal accounts and billing addresses.
MLBAM has been broadcasting live and catch-up games through MLB.tv since 2003, starting at $79.95 a year. While the patent seems primarily designed to comply with TV rights, it also has uses for “sweepstakes, contests, promotions and fantasy games”, the description says. And it doesn’t stop there: “Localized news, weather, and events listings may be targeted at a network entity” and it “may be utilized to direct advertisements or offer other information via a network that has a higher likelihood of being the relevant to a network user”. So, while the system will block certain games from users, it will also serve them targeted marketing. But a select few won’t be subject to the system’s black-outs – according to the patent, “determination is made as to whether the customer is a preferred customer, such as an executive of a sports team or a family member of a team player”; if so, they are treated differently online.