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Paywalls, And Other Small Tragedies

The ESPN+ deal is a good long-term move. And the Fire are still screwing it up.

MLS: All-Star Press Conference Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Fire front office has done almost nothing right this year.

Between the supporter bans and the club’s woes on the pitch, this is probably the worst season in club history, even if they manage not to win the Andrew Hauptman Memorial Wooden Spoon.

But one thing I still believe the Fire did right— their streaming agreement. Not only is the ESPN+ deal a good idea, but one that is ahead of its time. The idea that I can take my Fire with me wherever I am and not have to worry about wondering if where I am has CSN+ or not is wonderful. I was also a subscriber to MLS’s League Pass to stream out of market games for 80 bucks a year. So when this came along, the thought was, “Great! No blackout restrictions, it’s $20 cheaper, plus everything else non-soccer related on ESPN+. This is a bargain.”

I never really understood the complaints about ease of access. It’s literally right there in your pocket. What difference is there between projecting it from your phone on the TV versus flipping the channel? And as for quality concerns, aside from the hiccup the first week, there really haven’t been any. I’ve streamed every game without problem the entire season from both my phone and laptop.

I have come to understand, from a technical standpoint, that I come from a place of privilege when it comes to this. I have access to very fast reliable internet— something that is not true for a lot of people. Even in 2018, the internet is not as reliable as a cable subscription. Nor is it as easy for others to make changes to their viewing habits.

My dad, for example, is what I would consider a casual Fire fan. He watches the games, but doesn’t really pay attention to anything else going on. He doesn’t follow team news, and I doubt he reads blogs or anything (unless I’m wrong, in which case, Hi, Dad.) Every Saturday, he asks me “Are the Fire on TV?” an upgrade from “What channel are the Fire on?” Him watching games is completely dependent on me being there with him. I imagine that there are a lot of fans out there who are like that. And they are the ones hurt most by this.

From a non-technical side, the optics of the move have been bad. The front office has managed to screw up what should’ve been a hit by dragging it down with all the baggage that followed the announcement. What looked like an innovative way to nationalize the footprint of a soccer team on the upswing looks more like just another anti-fan policy on a string of other anti-fan policies.

The FO is perceived as putting the team behind a paywall, hiding them away from what they know was going to be a step back in form this year— or, if you’re feeling particularly cynical, in anticipation of some of the bad looking decisions that they were planning on doing this year.

I still think that moving to a streaming platform and leaving traditional cable will eventually be a good move. But on the back of everything else happening this year, it just looks depressing.