Baseball is suffering. Following a pandemic-shortened season in 2020, MLB attendance hit a 37-year low in 2021. While many teams didn’t open to full capacity until halfway through the season, viewership among fans at home was also down 12% compared to 2019. The good news is that viewership has been bouncing back for the playoffs, up 89% over last year’s MLB playoffs and up 3% over 2019’s.
As MLB seeks to improve engagement with fans, it’s not only experimenting with possible rule changes that would impact excitement around on-field play, but the league is now considering launching a new streaming platform by 2023 that would untether local games from Pay-TV subscriptions. It reportedly would cost between $10 and $20 monthly.
This would be good news for the many consumers who have moved on from Pay-TV to streaming services. Sports remain one of the most popular and lucrative programming areas for satellite and cable TV providers since they are typically needed to watch local teams. MLB.TV, for example, gives fans access to any team’s broadcast except the ones in their local market where blackout restrictions get in the way. Should MLB finalize these plans, the league could face backlash from cable companies who would be less willing to pay top dollar to broadcast games.
The new MLB streaming service would be complementary to MLB.TV rather than replace or be integrated into it. A single MLB platform would be more convenient, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards at the moment, especially since MLB is also looking at teaming up with other sports leagues on the same platform to offer local NBA or NHL games, for example.
According to Interpret’s VideoWatch™, fewer MLB fans subscribe to Pay-TV than NBA fans. Additionally, only 14% of MLB.TV subscribers have signed up through a TV service provider compared to 27% of NBA League Pass subscribers who have done so. Conversely, 49% of MLB.TV subscribers have signed up through a streaming device compared to 42% among NBA League Pass subscribers. These data points suggest that baseball’s fan base is increasingly leaning into streaming over Pay-TV, which could make a new MLB streaming platform a smart move for the league.