Facebook is bringing live Major League Baseball games back to its video-streaming platform for a third straight year — but is coming to the plate with a much lighter schedule.
Under the social network’s 2019 one-year renewal with the league, Facebook will carry six live, regular-season games (one per month) globally on Facebook Watch, excluding local markets subject to blackout and select international markets. Each live game will be produced by MLB Network specifically for Facebook Watch, with interactive and social elements that enable fans to participate in the broadcast.
This year’s six-game pact is a significant drop from Facebook’s deal last year with MLB, under which it had exclusive live-streaming global rights to 25 MLB games for the 2018 season.
Facebook is still in the process of experimenting with live sports on the platform — and it says that will continue in 2019 with the MLB. This year, Facebook’s nonexclusive MLB game broadcasts will let out-of-market fans to watch one game per month for free on Facebook Watch that they may not have otherwise had access to. MLB also will have the opportunity to sell sponsorships against those broadcasts, according to Facebook.
“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,” Rob Shaw, Facebook’s sports partnerships lead for leagues and media, said in a statement.
For now, the 2019 schedule of MLB games on Facebook Watch has yet to be determined.
In 2018, MLB also employed interactive broadcasts for games on Facebook Watch, letting viewers post questions to the announcers and ask managers and players in-game questions. In addition, the live-streamed baseball games featured select users’ questions, comments, photos and videos in the broadcast.
That approach yielded an audience on Facebook that was almost 20 years younger than MLB’s average TV audience, according to the parties. Also boosting fan engagement: The league launched Facebook Groups for each of its clubs, letting fans come together to chat, debate and pontificate.
Currently, the MLB Live show page on Facebook has 1.2 million followers. Each game in 2018 drew anywhere from around 3 million to 7 million views — although Facebook counts views as anyone who watched for at least 3 seconds, so those numbers aren’t meaningful in determining overall time spent viewing. A Facebook rep did not have additional data related to last year’s MLB games.
For 2019, the deal between Facebook and MLB will again include game recaps for every game this season, including the All-Star Game and postseason play. The recaps will run on Facebook Watch shortly after the conclusion of each game. In addition, Facebook Watch will feature weekly recaps for all 30 MLB teams.
Commenting on the renewal, Chris Tully, MLB’s executive VP of global media, said, “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. Facebook provides a community-focused environment that will allow for fans to connect with their favorite teams via custom on-demand content and live game action driven by an original MLB Network social-first broadcast production.”
Facebook’s revised MLB deal was reported previously by Morning Consult.