Major League Baseball (MLB) hopes to be able to add live in-market games to its MLB.TV direct-to-consumer (DTC) platform in the near future.
Last week, MLB celebrated the 20th anniversary of becoming the first major professional sports league to live stream a regular season contest.
It was a milestone that kickstarted a digital journey that now sees MLB.TV offer viewers in the US the ability to watch any game that has not been selected for national coverage by Apple TV, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and TBS, or locally by regional sports networks (RSN).
These blackouts are designed to protect broadcast partners have become a source of contention in recent years, especially as they apply even if a local broadcaster is not covering the game. The league now says it is open to the idea of adding in-market games on MLB.TV or at least relaxing blackout restrictions so they cover a narrower area.
“I would say there’s going to be more to come on that front, MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden told the Sports Business Journal (SBJ).
“I hope at one point to have in-market [streaming] available on the product as well.”
However, MLB has warned that such a move will take time and would require a major reworking of rights deals for it to happen. Some teams, for example, still have a long time left to run on their RSN contracts meaning renegotiations would be necessary for in-market games to be available across the US.
However, MLB’s commitment to streaming is clear, as demonstrated by its deals with Apple TV and Peacock. The need to take out multiple subscriptions to watch all of a team’s games has attracted criticism, but MLB executive vice president of business development Kenny Gersh told the SportsPro StreamTime podcast that digital platforms were essential to increase innovation and expand reach.
Cord-cutting is more common among digitally-native younger audiences while conventional broadcasts cannot support interactive features such as betting and gaming. Apple can also issue notifications for matches on iPhone thanks to its tightly-integrated platform and can even promote matches in store – unlike Fox or ESPN.
“I know we get some criticism [from some fans who say] ‘I wanted to watch all the Red Sox games on MLB.TV and now this game is on Apple TV and now I don’t get to watch it’,” said Gersh.
“[But] we put up a maximum of four games for any club that’s on Apple TV and a maximum of one game, maybe two for any club on Peacock. Of the 162 games that the Red Sox have, four are on Apple TV. I think that’s a reasonable amount to start transitioning people to these new platforms.
“My hope is there are people on [Apple TV] who don’t have cable and can now access those games.
“We want to be where places people are going to watch entertainment content and seeing the baseball games in addition to whatever else they’re watching.
“We have to put [our content] out there in a bunch of places. I know fans get concerned when it’s not where they’re used to [but] I think this is better for the fans.”