MLB, Television Networks Leave Washington Nationals Fans in Dark

For the first time in 80 years, D.C. will host a professional playoff baseball game, but most Washingtonians won't see it.

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The good news: For the first time in nearly 80 years, the nation's capital will host a professional playoff baseball game. The bad news: Only a fraction of Washington-area fans will get to see it.

Because the game will be blacked out on local television, only the Washington Nationals fans with a game ticket or high-end television package will see it.

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The situation prompted one Nats fan to petition Major League Baseball to end the blackout and let the game air on local broadcast networks. The online petition at Change.org reads:

"The Washington Nationals are playing in their first home playoff game since 1933, yet the only way to watch the game is through pay TV packages that have MLB Network. Moreover, the Nationals are playing in a publicly subsidized $600+ million stadium. MLB needs to do the right thing and air the game on local broadcast television so fans who can't afford to go to the game or can't afford expensive cable or satellite service can see history!"

The game will air only on the subscription-based MLB Network, which requires satellite service or another pricey cable package to view. That means the majority of Washington, D.C., baseball fans, whose tax money subsidized the construction of Nationals Park, and who haven't seen playoff baseball since 1933, will not be able to watch their team at home.

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Brian Frederick, who started the Change.org petition, says he is trying to stand up for fans who get a raw deal from their cable providers and the MLB.

"We think it was a dumb move by Major League Baseball to keep the game from fans who want to see it," says Frederick, the executive director of SportsFan.org, a nonprofit that advocates for sports fans. "But also it's unethical because of the large tax subsidies and large public subsidies that have gone to fund the stadium where the game's being played."

Frederick says the situation is common throughout the season, and hopes that "beating the drum" on Wednesday's game and other big ones like it will convince the MLB to show a little leeway on significant games.

"This is part of a larger fight against the migration of sports and sports programming to pay TV," he says. "Not a lot of fans realize that as TV contracts with leagues skyrocket, [the fans are] the ones that pay for that via cable and satellite bills."

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As of two hours before the first pitch, the petition has received about 500 signatures, and Frederick says he hasn't heard from the MLB.

The lack of television access is not the only thing that threatened to keep fans from seeing the Nationals' playoff games. When it became clear the team could qualify for the playoffs, the team and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority entered a stalemate over subway service.

Playoff games often start later, and keeping Metro open late for baseball fans to get home afterward costs about $30,000 an hour. Both the Nationals and WMATA, each of which brings in millions in annual revenue, refused to put down the necessary deposit (if the expected number of riders use Metro, the deposit is paid back). Finally, in the last week of September, daily deals company LivingSocial agreed to pay the deposit, ending the stalemate and ensuring fans will have a ride home after the game Friday night.

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.