For the latest in Major League Baseball’s continued attempts to fix something that isn’t broken, we turn to Sports Business Daily headlines this week.
Who could have possibly guessed that’s how it would go down, except for pretty much everybody who wasn’t involved in the decision-making process?
Beyond this being a stupendously awful time to be associated with Facebook, taking content off television and putting it exclusively online has to be one of the single dumbest ideas in the history of sports business, to the point where it is mind-boggling that it even advanced past the idea stage, let alone to something that actually happened when the Mets played the Phillies on Wednesday, and will happen two dozen more times this year.
“How can we make sure that fewer people see our product, while also lowering the quality of our presentation?” must have been some kind of idea meeting at MLB headquarters on Park Avenue, resulting in an afternoon where people could walk into a sports bar and watch Champions League soccer instead of baseball. Those who sought out the game online were treated to huge swaths of screen blocked out for seemingly no reason, plus the opportunity to read comments during the game from strangers on the internet.
Meanwhile, the regular television rightsholders lost a game they had paid to broadcast, which may not matter on a Wednesday afternoon in April, but surely would be an issue if Facebook Watch ever became home to a game of any kind of consequence or wider-spread interest.
There may be a benefit in baseball on Facebook Watch to people who are at work and can neither get to a television nor stream in-market games on MLB’s regular online service, MLB.tv, but… aren’t those people at work, you know, working? It’s quite a leap from “social media usage is higher during business hours” to “let’s put three hours of live programming exclusively on social media.”
It does, however, fit with MLB’s pattern of unexplainable behavior when it comes to marketing its own product. The commissioner is obsessed with “pace of play” to the point that there is a new rule this year to limit mound visits by players and coaches. At Yankee Stadium, the scoreboard now reads “R H E MVR,” for runs, hits, errors, and mound visits remaining. While any effort to rid the world of meetings is at least somewhat laudable, is all of this really worth the savings of maybe a couple of minutes per game? Remember, baseball takes less time to play its average game than football does, with more time spent with actual action taking place.
If MLB were using Facebook Watch as an additional way to allow people to watch games, as it has done with Twitter, that would be another matter. By taking games off television, though, baseball is deliberately cutting down its audience in an attempt to.. be trendy somehow? Except that nobody asked for this, or even seemed to particularly want it. There surely were some general fans of the sport who hopped on Facebook Live to check it out, but the main thrust of this move was to antagonize existing customers by making the product less accessible, while drawing in… who, exactly? What person was excited that baseball was coming to Facebook Watch and decided Mets-Phillies was definitely the game to check out? If that question had any kind of answer, this farkakteh endeavor might make at least minimal sense, instead of standing out as another misstep by everyone involved.