Facebook has made a deal with Major League Baseball to live-stream a game each week, which is great news for… somebody?
This is one of those moments where it’s easy to feel like maybe you’re missing the point of something because you’re old – I recently aged out of that coveted 18-35 demographic – but as someone who is both online a great deal and a voracious consumer of sports content, well, I’m just not seeing it.
Literally, that is, as much as figuratively. As noted in Variety’s story about the Facebook/MLB announcement, there already is a weekly baseball game streamed on Twitter, and that was either the first I’d heard of it or the first I’d heard of it since totally forgetting it was a thing that existed, because when you think of Twitter or Facebook and live video, you’re generally not so much thinking about live sports.
It’s great for cord-cutters, who get another way to watch sports on their home computers, especially with local blackout restrictions lifted for the live streams. It’s great for people in households with one television and a tablet who want a way to watch a game while someone else is captivated by news broadcasts or sucked into a Law & Order marathon. It’s great for social media networks to say that they have this capability. But is it really going to be a significant way that people watch games?
Watching sports on your phone is awful. It drains the battery and, unless you’re on a home wifi network, eats up scads of data or includes too much buffering to be the least bit enjoyable. You can barely see the ball, anyway, and if you want to do anything else with your phone while you’re watching, tough beans. As device usage trends away from big computers and toward hand-helds, social media teaming up with sports leagues is thoroughly counterintuitive.
What makes far more sense is what the NFL is doing. After one year of streaming Thursday Night Football on Twitter, it was announced in April that Amazon got the streaming rights to 10 games for a cool $50 million – five times what Twitter had paid, and rightfully so. Much as TNF is the very worst on-field product that the NFL has to offer, it’s far more valuable on Amazon, which can deliver games on actual televisions.
That’s much more useful to those cord-cutters who should be the real target of streaming deals to increase audience reach. This is an area where baseball struggles to gain traction because the sport is in such thrall to television rights money.
Consider the Mets’ nascent streaming availability through SNY.tv and the NBC Sports app. In order to access it, you have to be an SNY subscriber, which means that if you want to watch a Mets game at home, you have to have cable already, which defeats the purpose. It works great if you go to the house of a cord-cutting friend and log in with your own password, but then only if your cable company is one of the ones supported by the deal. Not supported by the deal? Oh, just Spectrum and Verizon Fios, only two of the biggest TV providers in New York – and Verizon is a sponsor of the streaming package.
Given the way the Mets have been playing lately, having fewer ways to watch them isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just indicative of a business where somebody said “we’ve got to get in on this streaming thing” and nobody considered how to do it in a way that actually worked for the viewers who really use it.
The amazingly stupid thing about it is that it amounts to leaving money on the table. A cord-cutting fan of a team would generally be inclined to pay more to stream games than they would pay in carriage fees to regional sports networks as part of a cable package, because few people realize what those individual channels cost. Continuing to cut out people who aren’t inclined to keep cable just for the sake of live sports is a failure of business, and one not solved by throwing a weekly game onto Facebook or Twitter to be lost in the ocean of dog pictures and Trump jokes.