MLB Pitches D2C Streaming Service

Dan Meier 12 February, 2024 

Major League Baseball (MLB) is looking to launch its own streaming service for the 2025 season, the organisation’s commissioner has revealed. The proposed offering would offer local live broadcasts for at least half the teams in the league’s 30-strong lineup.

At an owners meeting in Florida, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters: “Realistically, my target to having a digital package I can take to market would be for the ’25 season.” MLB rights are currently held by a range of regional sports networks, with local blackout policies limiting viewers’ access to their nearest teams.

The league already runs an SVOD offering called MLB.TV, which offers out-of-market packages. These allow subscribers to watch games that are not broadcast in their local market, but restrictive blackout regulations have reportedly left viewers frustrated over lack of access to games. The blackout rules were established to secure local networks’ exclusivity, as well as to drive in-game attendance.

As a result, the league wants to effectively eliminate local blackouts by launching a national direct-to-consumer (D2C) offering. Manfred said the move would mean acquiring the TV rights for at least 14 teams in the MLB.

Inside baseball

Such a move would see the MLB join a host of sports leagues and teams going D2C, including the NBA and NFL. And the baseball league is now seeing its hand somewhat forced by the financial situation at Diamond Sports Group (DSG), which owns local rights to 12 MLB teams, and entered bankruptcy protection last year.

Last month, Amazon bought a $115 million stake in DSG, allowing the group to continue operating. And earlier this month, the Minnesota Twins renewed their rights deal with DSG-owned Bally Sports North for another year, squashing fans’ hopes that the MLB team could launch a D2C offering. The Cleveland Guardians and Texas Rangers are also expected to sign one-year deals with Bally Sports.

But the teams will likely see their TV revenues diminish as a result. According to The Athletic, teams signing on for another year with Bally Sports North are expected to receive around 15 percent less for their TV rights than last year.

The MLB is therefore making a swing for D2C, enabling its teams to maximise their revenues, and the league to regain control over TV rights in a sports broadcast market in a state of flux. And with the Twins only signed on for another year at DSG, their future is still very much up in the air. The league is therefore well-positioned to catch their digital rights, along with several other teams in the same boat.

However, the MLB would still need around 10 more teams to make a viable streaming pitch, and larger teams could be more likely to shop their rights around.

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