For any Mariners fans hoping to watch today’s game against Texas, your only option is Facebook.
It’s part of an experiment that allows MLB to test new ways to air live baseball as more and more sports content is streamed online. It’s also part of Facebook’s push to get more sports video content on its site as it competes with other tech giants — Amazon and its deal with the NFL, for example — who are doing the same.
The Mariners vs. Rangers game on Thursday at 12:40 p.m PT is the sixth matchup to air on Facebook this season. The first-of-its-kind deal is exclusive, meaning games that stream on Facebook will only be available on Facebook — no TV broadcast on ROOT Sports, no option on MLB.TV, etc. (The Mariners will carry the game via radio, however). It’s different than MLB’s streaming deal with Twitter, which is not exclusive.
The video stream is free, but you’ll need to have a Facebook account and head to the MLB Live page.
But for MLB, this is a way to experiment with a new video platform and offer a more interactive viewing experience to fans around the world.
The game on Wednesday will be produced by MLB Network, with Harold Reynolds and Rich Waltz calling the game, along with former KJR host Elise Woodward and former Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis providing commentary and on-field interviews. The play-by-play and color commentary teams change each week.
The production looks similar to a traditional broadcast but is geared to an online audience with a “social-first approach,” allowing fans to comment during the game and giving MLB a way to easily integrate Facebook and Instagram posts. The stream, which does not have commercials, also features a tighter camera angle and larger graphics for mobile screens.
“I was most excited about the interaction part when we first discussed this idea, and it has completely lived up to the expectations,” said Scott Braun, who has done play-by-play for five of the six games on Facebook this season. “The fans have a seat in the broadcast booth with us. In real time, I’m looking at and reacting to thousands of comments and can incorporate them into the broadcast. That’s what truly makes it a social broadcast.”
Last week’s Giants vs. Phillies game racked up more than 27,000 comments and six million views. But the average viewership for the first game in April, which drew complaints from fans, peaked at 85,000 and averaged around 75,000 — far below what an average TV audience.
I jotted down the Facebook MLB audience every couple innings just to try to approximate an average minute audience. Ended up with an average of 75k.
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) April 4, 2018
Featuring fan commentary with a live stream is similar to what Twitter did with its Thursday Night Football streams in 2016, but takes it one step further by incorporating it directly on the screen.
“It’s simplifying the process by having it all on one screen,” Braun said.
The pairing of a live stream with social media commentary could become the norm for how fans watch sports in the future. Amazon is doing something similar with its live streams of NBA G League games on Twitch, and for the new NBA 2K esports league.
In September, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that live sports should look more like video games.
With legalized sports betting set to roll out in the U.S. over the next several years, you can envision how these live streams can incorporate more than just social commentary, perhaps giving fans a way to easily bet on games from their computer or smartphone. There are also opportunities for platforms like Facebook or Amazon to create personalized advertisements during games, given that they know more information about individual users.
These are some of the reasons for why live streaming sports rights are becoming valuable, particularly as fans consume more and more content online. The MLB deal with Facebook was reportedly worth $30-to-$35 million. Last year’s deal with Amazon and the NFL was reportedly worth $50 million. Several reports indicated that the NFL may have upped that price for the renewed deal as competition from other services such as YouTube and Facebook was strong.
Here’s a look at the upcoming weekly MLB games on Facebook:
- TEX @ SEA – Wed. 5/16, 3:40pm ET
- LAA @ TOR – Thurs. 5/24, 12:37pm ET
- STL @ MIL – Wed. 5/30, 1:10pm ET
- ARI @ SF – Wed. 6/6, 3:45pm ET
- LAA @ SEA – Wed. 6/13, 4:10pm ET
- ATL @ TOR – Wed. 6/20, 12:37pm ET
- KC @ MIL – Wed. 6/27, 2:10pm ET