MLB interested in expanding streaming availability of games

MLB baseball
MLB could expand its streaming deal with Facebook. (slgckgc/Flickr)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with Fox Business Network on Tuesday and hinted that the league is working on ways to make live game streaming available to more fans.

Manfred noted how long MLB has been active in the streaming media space, and indeed, MLB.TV has been available for more than 16 years. But he said the current opportunity in streaming for MLB relates to the existing cable model and the 22 regional sports networks that are for sale—Disney is selling them off as a condition of its $71.3 billion 21st Century Fox acquisition.

“Obviously they are a creature of the cable model, but our ownership of the digital rights presents a real opportunity for the industry,” Manfred said.

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Manfred also signaled MLB’s interest in the RSNs.

“These regional sports networks are really valuable, valuable assets and we think that the combination of that traditional mode of delivery and the digital rights that we control is an opportunity for the game,” he said.

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Manfred’s comments are notable in light of a report today from the New York Post suggesting that MLB could hand over digital streaming rights to individual teams. MLB’s deal with the RSNs (which is expiring at the end of the year) includes $2 million for streaming rights, according to the report. But MLB reportedly wants to give streaming rights to teams so they can benefit from in-market streaming, which is not often available through MLB.TV.

Manfred also brought up MLB’s deal with Facebook, which last season streamed 30 games on its Facebook Watch platform. He praised that partnership and hinted at another possible expansion for the 2019 season.

“Well, I think the most interesting thing about Facebook is it gave us an audience that was dramatically different from our traditional broadcast audience. And, obviously, that encourages you to be more aggressive because you're not cannibalizing your traditional product. In fact, it's an additive opportunity. So we're very positive on the experiment,” Manfred said.

MLB also has a streaming deal in place with Twitter and YouTube that features content from the league.