The Cardinals will place their entire television package on Fox Sports Midwest beginning next season, marking the first time none of their locally produced telecasts will be on over-the-air TV since they began televising games in the 1940s.
The number of telecasts in that package on so-called "free TV" have decreased in recent years, down to about 20 annually on KSDK (Channel 5) in a deal that began in 2007. But all 150 will be on FSM next year.
"Having the entire television package in one place is fan-friendly, the fans know for the most part where the games are night after night," FSM general manager Jack Donovan said Wednesday.
But there is one potential huge fan-unfriendly aspect to the move — there is no guarantee all FSM customers will receive all the telecasts.
When the Blues eliminated over-the-air TV last season and moved their full package to Fox Sports Midwest, Dish Network and several cable systems balked at paying an increased fee to FSM and blacked out 35 games. Donovan acknowledged there is no guarantee a similar situation won't arise with those 20 or so Cardinals telecasts FSM will add.
"We may not have deals in place everywhere, but we don't anticipate problems," he said, adding that no movement has been made yet with the Blues' situation.
Meanwhile, KSDK plans to continue its Sunday "This Week in Cardinal Nation" show next season — but won't have on-field action.
"We would love to (keep) the games, we tried very hard," KSDK news director Mike Shipley said. "But it wasn't our decision to make. It was up to the Cardinals."
Cable outlets such as FSM have a huge advantage over "free-TV" in that they have two key ways to raise revenue — subscriber fees in addition to merely selling advertising, which is the primary source for over-the-air entities. That's why so many sporting events are moving to cable, including this week's British Open golf tourney. The only live coverage is on ESPN, the first time it's a cable-only event. The Bowl Championship Series follows suit next winter.
"There has been a trend throughout the industry, all sports teams have migrated most if not all their games to cable," Cardinals president Bill Dewitt III said. "We were kind of a holdout. We feel now is the time ... with the cable distribution pattern, that we can make this move."
About 11 percent of homes in the market don't buy cable or satellite TV, but Dewitt said a survey of fans in the ballpark showed that only 4 percent of them said they don't purchase one of those services.
Still, a recent Post-Dispatch analysis showed Cards games on their "free TV" outlets over the last decade rated 34 percent better than those on FSM, seeming to indicate that fans who can't afford FSM make it a point to see the free telecasts.
"It's strictly a business decision, I understand that," said Jay Randolph, the play-by-play announcer on the Cards' KSDK telecasts. "But I've heard from many people who don't have cable who say they appreciate us having the games."
Those who don't buy FSM won't be totally shut out because KTVI (Channel 2) carries up to nine Redbirds games annually as part of the Fox network's schedule.
Also, a decision is expected soon regarding the team's radio rights. The games are on KTRS (550 AM), but KMOX (1120 AM) and WXOS (101.1 FM) are bidding.