Facebook Steps to the Plate to Exclusively Stream MLB Games

Facebook today took the field to exclusively live stream this afternoon's New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, part of the social media company’s new streaming agreement with Major League baseball announced last month.

Both Facebook and the league are hoping the live streaming package will entice younger viewers to tune into the game as well as baseball fans who might look to sneak in an inning or two on their work computers.

More importantly for the Tv sports business, the agreement marks the first time one of the four major sports leagues has provided a digital service with exclusive rights to stream live, regular season games. National and regional sports networks will be shut out of telecasting Facebook’s 25 weekly afternoon baseball games.

“I do think it’s a watershed moment for the fact that the rights were even granted – it’s a huge testament of the importance of mobile/social viewing for the sports fans and sports enthusiasts,” said Tania Yuki, CEO and founder of social media research company Shareablee. “I think for a long time the sports industry has been conservative with streaming viewing, and this is just a sign of things to come with content being more available – its all about breaking down barriers.”

Facebook, Twitter -- which debuts its MLB live game streaming package tomorrow (April 5)-- and other digital companies have become very aggressive in going after live sports rights, and are expected to be major players when major sports TV rights come up in the next few years. Facebook and Amazon have reportedly expressed interest in acquiring rights to the WWE’s Raw and SmackDown when those rights come up in 2019, and could be players for UFC content when Fox Sports’ TV rights agreement with the mixed martial arts company expires later this year.

As for Facebook’s MLB package, Yuki says the metrics revolving around how many viewers are watching the game will go a long way toward determining whether the exclusive package hits a home run for Facebook and the league.

“The proof is going to be in the pudding in terms of how many people are going to tune in live,” Yuki said. “[Streaming services] have always been really great in aggregating viewer attention over time, but the next step will be making sure that they can bring those audiences together specifically when the games are happening. Certainly the audience and the interest are there." 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.