Livestreaming

MLB, Facebook Scale Back Streaming Deal for 2019 Season to 6 Non-Exclusive Games

In 2018, the social media platform livestreamed 25 games exclusively

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets hits a two-run homer against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first 2018 game streamed on Facebook Watch. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

MLB and Facebook Inc. have inked a new one-year agreement for the 2019 season, cutting the number of games livestreamed on the social media platform to six, down from 26 the previous season, and making them non-exclusive, unlike 25 of the games broadcast last year.

A Facebook spokesperson said late Thursday that six regular-season games will appear for free on Facebook Watch — one per month — in the United States and globally, excluding select international markets. Games on Facebook will be subject to blackouts in local markets while they air on regional sports networks.

It’s too early to say if games will appear exclusively on Watch outside of the participating club markets, the spokesperson said.

Both Facebook and MLB declined to disclose financial terms. A broadcast schedule is still being finalized for 2019 and likely won’t be announced until closer to the first broadcast, an MLB spokesperson said.

“We look forward to testing a new model for live games, which should help the league continue to reach a younger and more global audience,” said Rob Shaw, Facebook Sports Partnerships Lead, Leagues & Media, by email via a spokesperson.

In 2017, Facebook had non-exclusive national simulcasts of 20 regular-season games using the local RSN feed. Last year, Facebook paid a reported $30 million-$35 million to exclusively air 25 afternoon games on Watch around the world, except in some international markets. Fans in the United States could watch games throughout the country on the social network, but not on a regional sports network or on MLB.TV.

According to Facebook, the league reached an audience nearly 20 years younger than MLB’s average television audience. A Facebook-confirmed analysis by Sporting News last season found that MLB regular-season games received 123 million views, meaning a viewer had video open for three or more seconds.

Toward the end of the 2018 season on Sept. 16, Facebook and MLB tested a global broadcast of a game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which was blacked out locally on the social network but still available on television. That arrangement will be reprised this year.

Facebook said MLB will have an opportunity to sell a sponsorship against the livestreamed broadcasts. If it does so, it would retain 100 percent of the revenue, though it’s unclear if and how it would be distributed among all 30 clubs.

MLB Network will once again produce the Watch-specific broadcasts that’ll include interactive and social elements and user-generated content, among additional features, Facebook said.  

Recaps for every regular-season game along with the All-Star Game and playoffs will also appear on Watch as part of the agreement, as well as weekly packaged highlights for each club. Operation of Facebook Groups for each club, where fans can interact with each other in a community environment, will also continue.

“Collaborating with Facebook will again drive the creation of new ways for us to deliver content to baseball fans that engage on the platform daily,” Chris Tully, the league’s executive vice president for global media, said in a statement.

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