Cubs: Proposed streaming service raises betting concerns

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Here at Cubbies Crib, we recently ran this piece by Michael Consolo arguing in favor of the potential new Cubs-centric direct streaming service first reported in the New York Post. I am also broadly in favor of the concept: it is absurd that Cubs fans in the greater Chicago metro area have to pay for a cable bundle that includes the Flip Your Edwardian Castle Channel if they want to watch games at home.

The blackout rules are wickedly complex, and I’m not sure the Cubs will be able to cut their way through this thicket, but good on them for trying. There are few legal enterprises where owners get rewarded for making it harder for customers to buy their product.

The pricing is where I start to get a bit less enthusiastic. It’s not just the $18/month price, though that will exclude a lot of fans. According to the Post article, that price assumes a significant target audience of bettors who will want to place and monitor their in-game bets in conjunction with streaming the games. The article isn’t clear on exactly how this would work; the streaming service would not (at least initially) accept bets itself, but there would be some marketing linkage between the service and DraftDuel or FanKings or JB & Halle’s or whoever.

In other words, the pricing isn’t intended to make the service widely available, but rather deeply, to fans who will then lose more money making prop bets, and thereby presumably make more money, at least indirectly, for the Cubs. And here’s where things get dicey (I’m in town all week – try the alewives).

The issue is corruption, and it really goes beyond the streaming app – it’s one that may eventually affect the whole baseball industry. With the collapse of organized opposition to betting on baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis must be spinning in his grave. And while few things give me more pleasure than hearing that old racist’s bones rattle, the idea that the sport has simply proceeded beyond match fixing is optimistic.

Any security professional will tell you that the most dangerous locations are those just outside the perimeter. Yes, most players probably get paid enough to make them difficult to turn, but there are plenty of people associated with the game who aren’t so richly rewarded. An umpire, a groundskeeper, a clubhouse attendant – the Bad Guys are looking for just a few bad guys from among baseball’s proletariat.

"The data analysis company Sportradar has reported that up to 90% of suspicious activity around sport gambling markets occurs during in-game betting. – Paul Macinnes in The Guardian, January 19, 2022"

We’re not talking Black Sox here; I don’t think major league teams will start throwing games again. As that article in The Guardian notes, it’s the prop bets where problems can occur. Some of those problems are absurd, like the great pie eating scandal at Sutton United; some, like the mysterious Arsenal yellow card discussed in The Guardian article, are more sinister. And prop betting on baseball games will continue to occur whether there’s a new streaming service or not. (You can even bet on virtual games.)

But the closer the Cubs in particular, and MLB in general, align their revenues with prop betting, the more risk there is of serious misfortune. I’m not a traditionalist in any sense: the Good Old Days usually weren’t. But I’d like to see MLB and its individual clubs keep a respectful distance from prop bets until everyone has a better sense of the steps needed to ensure the game’s integrity.

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As for the new Cubs streaming service, if it could be priced  priced to reach a lot more fans, and not specifically linked to gambling, that could spread interest in the team farther and wider while reducing the risk of it suffering a scandal that forces them to eat humble pie.