MLB TV Review: Now With Minor Leagues, Still With Blackouts
Baseball looks different in 2023, but baseball's streaming service remains largely the same. You can now watch games in the minors as part of your subscription, but blackout restrictions are still a major bummer.
Matt ElliottSenior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Baseball is no longer a sport without a clock. In an attempt to quicken the pace of play and shorten the length of games, a pitch clock has been introduced this season that gives pitchers 15 seconds with the bases empty or 20 seconds with runners on to deliver a pitch. Meanwhile, other rules have been introduced to increase offense and action on the bases. The infield shift now has limits, pickoff throws are restricted and the bases are bigger. Over a month into the season, it's been jarring to see how large an impact these changes have already made, especially the pitch clock.
Streaming games on MLB.TV, however, looks and feels largely the same as it has in previous seasons, blackout restrictions and all.
The service remains excellent and provides access to almost every out-of-market game, night in and night out for the entire season. 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.
Minor league games now included
The biggest change to MLB.TV for the 2023 season is the addition of minor league games, which are now included in your subscription. My small-market Reds are once again long shots to reach the postseason, so I'm excited for the ability to watch the future of the club in the minors this season. As they fade from contention, I can skip another Reds loss and instead keep an eye on Elly de la Cruz, Matt McLain, Andrew Abbott and other prospects as they work their way to big leagues while I dream of a brighter baseball future in Cincinnati.
Steaming Minor League games was previously a separate subscription, but its inclusion with MLB.TV isn't a free addition. The price has gone up $10 for 2023. MLB.TV costs $150 for the season or $25 a month. As the season is underway the league has already begun cutting its prices, lowering the full season rate down to $140. You can also subscribe to a single team's games for $130 for the year (now $120). That's still a reasonable price hike for the ability to watch the majority of teams across all levels of the minors.
At the start of the season, MLB.TV offers the home team feeds for the following minor leagues:
All 30 Triple-A teams
All 30 Double-A teams
22 of 30 High-A teams
19 of 30 Single-A teams
You won't find minor league games on the MLB.TV app itself. They're still shown on the MiLB First Pitch app, and you'll need to create a separate account for that app and then link it to your MLB.TV account, which feels like a few steps too many. It would be easier if the minor league games were simply integrated into the MLB.TV app. That way, on days the Reds were down big early, I could quickly check in with the Louisville Bats and the other Reds minor league affiliates without switching apps.
Restricted by blackouts
At $150 (now $140) for the year, MLB.TV is too pricey for casual fans but certainly worth it for diehards 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 such as DirecTV Stream or Fubo that includes the regional sports network that carries the games.
Some RSNs, including NESN in New England and YES in New York (for the Yankees), even allow you to sign up directly with them to catch all the action without needing a pricier cable or streaming package.
Not only are your local team's games unavailable on MLB.TV, but nationally televised games also fall prey to blackout restrictions. And there are a lot of national MLB telecasts. In addition to games on ESPN, Fox, FS1, MLB Network and TBS, streaming services Apple TV Plus and Peacock carry MLB games nationally in 2023 -- and all are blacked out on MLB.TV.
I find it terribly disappointing when I attempt to tune into a Reds game on MLB TV and I'm greeted with a 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. Before you subscribe, be sure to peep your team's national broadcast schedule so you don't find yourself singing the blackout restriction blues before the ivy turns green at Wrigley.
Check out the MLB.TV app on iPad, phones and TV streamers
For fans who live outside their favorite team's market, there is 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.
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. With a variety of supported devices and access to both TV and radio broadcasts, MLB.TV meets you wherever you are and makes it easy to be a baseball fan all summer long.
The RSN cloud
That said, blackouts could become a thing of the past for some fans over the course of the season. As we explained in earlier stories, the Bally Sports and AT&T SportsNet RSNs seem to be on borrowed time. Diamond Sports Group, which owns the Bally Sports regional sports networks, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year while AT&T SportsNet owner Warner Bros. Discovery has similarly said it plans to leave the RSN business.
Depending on how things play out, roughly half the league could be impacted and it will be interesting to see if the teams or MLB move to put local games on MLB.TV, remove the blackout restrictions and make that the true one-stop shop for baseball fans. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in February that if Bally Sports misses payments, it'll pick up the handling of broadcasts for the affected teams, though it wasn't clear if that would be on MLB.TV or through some other service.
MLB.TV subscription options and extras
There are three ways to subscribe to MLB.TV:
Season-long: Pay $140 to be able to watch out-of-market games live or on-demand for the whole season. 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.
Single-team season-long: Pay $120 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 doesn't 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.
Monthly: Pay $25 per month to be able to watch out-of-market games live or on-demand. This monthly subscription 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 pay more for the flexibility of being on a month-to-month basis, but if your team is well past eliminated by the trade deadline you don't need to worry about watching bad baseball during the dog days of summer.
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 one, 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. A daily show called Big Inning offers live look-ins across all the games in action as well as highlights as they happen. It feels similar to the NFL's RedZone channel that jumps around the league's game on Sunday afternoons.
In addition, MLB.TV is expanding pre- and post-game coverage this year. Fans of 17 clubs are able watch pre- and post-game coverage, which is up from the 13 clubs that offered it at the end of last season. 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 A) outside of your local TV market and B) not on national TV. As a resident of New England, for example, I can't watch Boston Red Sox games live on MLB.TV. Since the team I follow is a small market team that hasn't had much success in recent years, it isn't 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 for fans of successful, big-market teams, since their teams are shown regularly on ESPN and other national broadcasts. And the blackout restrictions will be even more frequent this year with more streaming services adding exclusive, live baseball, including Friday night doubleheaders on Apple TV Plus and Sunday morning games on Peacock (Yankees fans in New York also need to contend with Amazon Prime Video broadcasts).
With so many streaming services offering snippets of the season, it feels like it's more difficult than it should be to watch your team's games night in and night out. Were it not for MLB.TV, however, 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 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 PCs
iOS and Android phones and tablets
Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast streaming devices
PS4, PS5 and Xbox One game consoles
Samsung smart TVs
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.
You get similar overlays on a phone, but there are 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.
New this year with the iPhone app is support for Live Activities so you can follow the action on your lock screen. You can only do this for the team you designate as your favorite in the app. On the Scores tab, you'll see a Track Game button below your favorite team's game. Tap it and you'll get pitch-by-pitch updates on your lock screen. It's a great way to follow along during times when you can't watch or listen to the game.
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 radio feed isn't always synced to the video feed, however, which makes this arrangement less than ideal. This season so far, the radio feed has been closer to the video feed, if not right on it, most nights. I'm spending more nights watching the Reds accompanied by the radio team, who I prefer to the TV broadcast booth, than in past seasons when the radio feed was either too far in front or behind the video feed.
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.
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 on 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 highlight package on MLB.TV the next morning or a slightly longer condensed game. Each gives you the plays from the game without additional commentary; you hear the call from either the home or away announcer. There's 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 don't 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'll see ads during the usual commercial breaks between innings and during pitching changes of live games, and they'll get repetitive. While I get annoyed with having to watch the same ads repeated in between innings, 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.
A benefit of watching MLB.TV on an iPad or iPhone is the ability to skip commercials when you're catching up to the live feed. On a MacBook and Windows laptop, I was forced to sit through ads in between innings and even a preroll ad when I joined a game in progress and started the feed at the beginning. Ad breaks really slow down the process of catching up on the earlier innings.
Only game in town for out-of-market fans
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. Compared with the new YES streaming service that costs $240 per season for Yankees games or with NESN 360, which costs $330 a year for Red Sox games, MLB.TV at $140 for the remainder of the season feels very reasonable. I don't take advantage of any of the extra video content and probably won't spend too many nights this summer watching Minor League baseball and will still think my subscription is money well spent.