After a strange, fan-less 60-game MLB season in 2020, the league has committed to a full 162-game season this year, and fans have been allowed back in the stands (with limitations on capacity). That’s great news for baseball, which is trying to grow its fanbase across the globe. One part of the strategy involves a deal with YouTube, which grants Google’s streaming platform the rights to broadcast 21 games worldwide during the 2021 season, completely free to viewers.
This marks the third season that MLB and YouTube have agreed to team up. During the first season, back in 2019, the 13-game schedule on YouTube generated 1.2 million live average views per game – slightly lower than ESPN’s 2019 Sunday Night Baseball viewership of 1.6 million per game. News of the latest deal comes shortly after premium streaming service YouTube TV began offering MLB.TV as an add-on option for subscribers.
This type of partnership serves multiple purposes. For MLB, not only does it give the sport global exposure, but because the baseball games are produced by MLB Network, it effectively helps the league promote its channel, which in turn may drive some viewers to consider YouTube TV where it’s part of the standard lineup. For YouTube, offering access to free broadcasts throughout the season could help awareness of YouTube TV while also bringing more MLB fans to YouTube in general, where they can further engage using live chat featuring game commentary from more than 40 sports-focused YouTube creators and in-game polls. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, MLB fans are among the least likely across professional sports fandom to spend time watching TV and movies on YouTube. Considering that ESPN reported a notable uptick in 2020 for its baseball viewers among the 18-34 age group, especially women, YouTube likely feels the need to make further efforts to secure this valuable demographic.