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It’s getting hard to keep track of all the live sports streaming deals that the major social networks are lining up with the top professional sports leagues. The latest live-streaming partnership is between Facebook and Major League Baseball (MLB), which will live-stream 20 regular season games to users of the social network.
Every Friday night starting May 19, all you have to do is head over to the MLB Facebook page, where you’ll have access to one live game. (On May 19, it was the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Cincinnati Reds) Best of all, there won’t be any blackout rules in effect, so it doesn’t matter where you live in the U.S., you’ll still be able to catch the game.
The link between MLB and Facebook
Of course, this isn’t the first time that MLB has used Facebook to live-stream content. MLB has experimented with live-streaming spring training games on Facebook, and it sometimes goes “live” on Facebook with news and analysis, as well as live shows. And during last year’s World Series, MLB used Facebook Live for pre-game and post-game press events.
For MLB, the deal will continue to expand access to potential new audiences. MLB has always been one of the most innovative professional sports leagues in terms of getting interactive content into the hands of fans, and this Facebook deal seems to be a natural fit. Right now, the MLB Facebook page has nearly 7 million fans. Assuming that just 10% of that audience tunes in during the game, that’s 700,000 viewers every Friday night! (And, in fact, within 12 hours, the first MLB game on Facebook had racked up 1.7M views and 26,000 reactions – not too bad, eh?)
Facebook’s live-streaming strategy
It’s clear that Facebook is continuing to stake more of its future on video, and the easiest way to showcase the value of live video is via premium content like MLB games. Let’s face it, your friends going “live” with silly broadcasts of their pets isn’t really a sustainable business model for Facebook. For the live video model to work, there has to be enough content to create advertising around, and there has to be a big enough audience aggregated at any time to show those ads to.
That’s why premium sports are such a big idea right now for the major social networks. Twitter has already done a deal with the NFL. Facebook has also signed a deal to stream live Major League Soccer (MLS) games.
Facebook vs. the cable TV business model
But let’s take a step back for a moment. On the surface, it would appear as if Facebook is part of the whole “cord-cutting” movement that’s so popular with young millennials. Instead of paying anywhere from $50 to $100 a month for the ability to watch the “Game of the Week” on a cable TV network like ESPN, why not just watch the game for free on Facebook?
And the Facebook model seems to work for MLB – it enables the league – and not ESPN – to control how their content is consumed by fans. You can think of this as a “direct to consumer” model – MLB can control the full experience from within its Facebook page.
But scratch the surface a bit, and it seems like Facebook is also bringing back two aspects of the cable TV experience that young millennials hate – the need to “tune in” at a certain time and place to watch a show, and being deluged by ads whenever they watch a show. If you’re watching a live stream of a game, you’re basically being held captive by potential sponsors and advertisers. And baseball – unlike, say, soccer – has very natural advertising breaks (the end of every half inning) that are going to be hard to pass up.
It will be interesting to watch this space. A lot of very smart people are trying to figure out live streaming. Right now, Facebook has targeted the U.S. market. But just as professional sports leagues are always trying to find new audiences – like playing NFL games in London and Mexico City – it’s easy to see how Facebook could be part of a major global expansion for any league. Imagine a cricket fan in Mumbai tuning in to a baseball game for the first time on Facebook, or young Latin American kids watching their baseball idols on Facebook without the need for a TV.
Facebook has long been touting its global expansion plans, and sports have a global appeal that transcend national barriers. The new Friday night baseball live stream might be a sign of things to come.