Facebook Watch Is Getting 25 Exclusive Weekday Afternoon MLB Games

MLB Network will produce the livestreams

Sources: Getty Images, MLB, Facebook

Major League Baseball will make 25 weekday afternoon games available exclusively via Facebook Watch during the 2018 regular season.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the agreement pegged the price tag for Facebook at $30 million to $35 million, Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg reported.

The games will be produced by MLB Network specifically for the Facebook Watch platform, with in-game production elements added to take advantage of the social network’s interactive capabilities.

The league said the games included in this package will only be available via Facebook Watch in the U.S. and globally (minus select international markets)—not via local television, streaming service MLB.TV or the MLB At Bat application.

The MLB Live page will host the games, and the league will produce and distribute on-demand highlight packages for every regular season game, as well as weekly recap packages for all 30 teams, which will also be available via Facebook Watch in the U.S. and globally.

Mary Scott, president of global integrated communications at entertainment and lifestyle marketing agency UEG, called the agreement a “really smart deal for both sides,” adding that sports leagues face challenges in capturing younger audiences and seeing them grow with the sport, among them the fact that “cord-cutters or cord-nevers don’t follow their sports the same way their parents did.”

Scott pointed out that MLB’s 162-game regular season gives it “more of an opportunity to look at a multichannel approach” than leagues with shorter seasons, such as the National Football League.

At its debut, there will be no advertising during the livestreamed games, with “content dips and highlights” occupying the time between innings, but MLB said sponsorship is possible in the future.

If advertising or sponsorship opportunities do open up at some point, Scott said she “absolutely would encourage our clients to look at this,” adding that it would be more attractive as a “reimagined buy”—pushing the envelope, possibly using virtual reality or other ways to bring brands into the livestreams in an authentic way—than as a banner ad-type offering.

MLB livestreamed several games on Twitter last season, starting out on Friday nights and moving to Tuesday nights during the middle of the season when a 20-game Facebook Live package took over the Friday-night slot.

The league said the 25 weekday afternoon games will be the only games earmarked for Facebook this season, adding that while it currently had nothing to announce regarding Twitter or other platforms, more deals may be forthcoming.

On that note, MLB also announced a two-year expansion of its World Series Presented by YouTube TV pact, which will see the Google-owned video site “present” the World Series in 2018 and 2019, as it did last season.

The agreement also includes the addition of MLB Network to YouTube TV and, at a future date, the availability of MLB.TV via YouTube TV for a fee.

The big question with this season’s Facebook Watch deal, according to Scott, is: “Will baseball get the younger generation to sit and watch nine innings on their mobile phones? The experience has to be very, very different on Facebook, Twitter or wherever, especially for baseball.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.