Facebook has taken a huge new swing at sports: The social giant announced a deal with Major League Baseball to exclusively stream 25 games worldwide during the 2018 season.
The deal marks the first time a major U.S. sports league has granted exclusive rights to Facebook. It’s also the biggest bucket of rights from a big league to go exclusively to a streaming-video platform. And it might mark the first inning of what could be a seismic shift for sports from its historic home on TV to digital over the next few years as more rights come due.
Financial terms weren’t disclosed. Facebook is paying MLB between $30 million-$35 million for the exclusive 25-game package, Bloomberg reported. It’s worth noting that the games are in the middle of the week and during daytime hours in the U.S. — making the national broadcast rights far less valuable than primetime or weekend matchups.
In the past two years, Facebook has demonstrated an appetite for acquiring live sports rights. Last season, MLB and Facebook teamed up live-stream 20 games on Friday nights. But those weren’t exclusive: The games for the 2017 season were national simulcasts of the participating home team’s local TV broadcast.
Under the new MLB deal, all of the games streamed on Facebook will be weekday afternoon matchups. The deal commences with the April 4 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets starting at 1:10 p.m. ET.
In the U.S., the games will be available on Facebook Watch via the MLB Live show page. Each of the games also will be available globally on the same page, excluding certain international markets where MLB has already sold TV rights.
According to MLB, the the league’s 30 teams unanimously approved the Facebook pact. “This partnership with Facebook reflects the ongoing commitment of Major League Baseball and our clubs to connect with people around the world,” said Tony Petitti, MLB’s deputy commissioner of business and media.
The 25-game package will be produced by MLB Network specifically for Facebook Watch across its supported devices, including mobile phones and connected TVs. MLB Network will create new in-game production elements designed for the social platform, including features to foster watching, sharing and interacting.
“Community and conversation are central to both baseball and Facebook, and MLB Network’s innovative broadcasts will bring these interactive and social elements of the game to life to fans around the world in new ways on our platform,” Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships, said in announcing the deal.
The news comes as Facebook is set to bring on board Peter Hutton, currently CEO of Eurosport, to lead its efforts to broker worldwide deals for live-streaming sports. Hutton will report to Reed.
Following the Phillies-Mets game on April 4, Facebook will exclusive stream the following games in April: Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals on April 11 at 1:15 p.m.; Kansas City Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays on April 18 at 4:07 p.m.; and Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies on April 26 at 1:05 p.m.
Facebook has been adding a steady stream live sports to its platform, but it hasn’t nabbed anything as high-profile as the MLB exclusive set of games. The company says it has more than 650 million sports fans on the platform worldwide, so it sees a rich opportunity to keep that audience engaged with more live programming.
In the first half of 2017, there were 3,500 live sports broadcasts on Facebook. However, only a small percentage of the sports content streamed on its platform are formal paid partnerships such as its deals with Fox Sports for UEFA Champions League soccer and MLB. Last fall, Facebook’s biggest known bid for sports rights, it offered $600 million for five-year rights to Indian Premier League cricket matches over five years (ultimately losing to Star India).