- Facebook secured exclusive national video rights from Major League Baseball and will stream 25 games this season on its Facebook Watch tab, per a report in MediaPost. The first game will be the New York Mets versus the Philadelphia Phillies on April 4 at 1:10 p.m.
- The games will air on weekday afternoons, and MLB Network will produce the broadcasts to ensure TV-level quality. Games will also include in-game elements created for watching, sharing and interacting on Facebook, and the deal features on-demand highlight packages and recaps for each team.
- The new agreement is valued between $30 million to $35 million, according to Bloomberg. The investment is larger than last year's when Facebook simulcast 20 local MLB games on Friday nights.
Facebook's MLB deal marks the first time a major U.S. sports league has agreed to exclusively air regular season games on the social media network, according to Bloomberg. Though the afternoon games aren't prime time viewing, it's a potentially significant win for Facebook, which has been building up a catalog of live sports inventory as the demand for digital sports media content continues to grow. Live streaming games will give the social network the chance to experiment with different features that encourage social sharing and interaction, which appeal to younger sports fans, and various digital ad formats, including for its fledgling premium video tab Watch.
As sports viewership has declined rapidly over the past few years and the number of cord cutters continues to rise, major sports leagues like the MLB are looking for new ways to reach sports fans, who prefer to watch on their own terms, often using multiple screens and seeking out content digitally and on social media. By building up sports audiences, Facebook, along with its competitors like Google and Amazon, could begin outbidding major TV networks over the next several years when current contracts expire.
Giving fans more access to live sports online could also accelerate the cord-cutting trend. Among sports fans, 81% subscribe to pay TV, but 82% of those subscribers reported they would trim or cut the cord if it not for live sports, and that they would be willing to pay $23 per month for unlimited live sports on any platform, according to a PwC report.
Facebook in January hired an executive devoted to negotiating sports streaming deals, operating with a budget reportedly in the billions of dollars. The social network last year lost a $600 million bid to stream cricket matches from the Indian Premier League over the next five years, and also the rights to stream NFL Thursday Night Football games to Amazon. It also streamed UEFA Champions League soccer games through a Fox Sports deal and broadcast live games from Mexico's main soccer league with Univision.