On Friday, MLB announced a historic deal with Facebook in which the social platform will have exclusive access to stream 25 afternoon baseball games in 2018.
This is the first time a major U.S. sports league has given Facebook exclusive streaming access. MLB owners unanimously approved the deal, indicating an optimistic outlook for the future of sports streaming on social platforms.
The package’s first game will feature the Wednesday, April 4 match up between the Mets and Phillies at 1:10 PM.
In addition to the broadcasts, MLB and Facebook will collaborate to produce additional material for viewers, including exclusive highlight reels and team-specific content packages.
Like everything that ends up on Facebook, there will be mixed reactions to this deal. Let’s examine both sides:
More opportunities to watch baseball. Any additional method or channel to expose baseball to a larger swath of fans means a big win for not only the game of baseball, but fans without access to cable. A lot of us are constantly on the go, or have other obligations where we aren’t around a TV, yet we still need our Mets. Plus, there are those fans that live out of town and can't afford on MLB.TV subscription. Streaming on social has the potential to fill that void for a number of demographics..
Watch at work. Many of us are at work during the afternoon games, and many of our offices don’t have TVs or access to SNY. NBC Sports' stream of Mets games helps, but that also required a cable subscription, where these Facebook broadcasts will not. So now, instead of having to find an illegal stream or constantly refresh our phones, we can now put the game on in the background while we put covers on our TPS reports.
The comments. As fans, we’re passionate, and sometimes we say things that are out of character. We’ll shout obscenities at the TV during the good and the bad. Well, now our hilarious comments will presumably be featured right under the live stream for the world to see. I envision twice the entertainment, as we can now pay attention to not only the action, but the commentary as well.
No Keith, Gary and Ron. Production of the games streamed on Facebook will be owned by the MLB, so it will be just like a national broadcast. That means no SNY telecast. A long-term shift to social could jeopardize local production and announcing talent. When you have a production as good as the Mets, that's not a plus for fans. Plus, how will we know who is watering Keith’s plants?
Quality may suffer. Going digital and moving to the streaming model is a major trend for consumers, but one major obstacle for sports could be the view quality. Streaming on social channels relies heavily on internet access and the performance of our internet service providers. I can see it now: the Mets are up one run in the ninth with two outs, Jeurys Familia is about to throw the payoff pitch, and then a “35% buffering” message pops up. Should be fun
The comments. Yes, the Facebook comments double as a blessing and a curse for the streaming process. Picture #MetsTwitter, but with more users and less time to stop oneself from hitting “send”. I envision during the April 4th game that fans will demand every fielder on the roster be traded after an error, every coach to be fired after a bullpen change, and every batter to be crowned MVP after a home run. It’s going to get old.
The Facebook-MLB partnership is a major milestone for the digital sports industry, and is a ultimately, a big win for baseball fans. We'll have to take the good with the bad, but this has a potential to change the game forever.