Facebook Inc. reached a deal with Major League Baseball for exclusive rights to stream 25 afternoon games on the social network in the U.S.
It's the first time a major U.S. league has agreed to show regular season games exclusively on Facebook, which has been building a portfolio of live sports. MLB owners unanimously approved the move, the league said. Neither MLB nor Facebook disclosed the financial terms, though people with knowledge of the matter put the price at $30 million to $35 million. They asked not to be identified because the terms are private.
"Much like the migration of sports from broadcast to cable, you're reaching these milestones where the combination of the financial incentive and the audience allow you to make the next great leap," said Lee Berke, an industry consultant. "This is part of the next great leap."
The games add to Facebook's growing sports lineup. Last year, the company struck deals with Fox Sports to stream the UEFA Champions League and with Univision to broadcast live games from Mexico's top soccer league. The company also had 20 nonexclusive MLB games last season and acquired exclusive rights to stream 47 college basketball games involving smaller conferences this year.
With 1.4 billion active daily users, the world's biggest social network is also still growing, in contrast with conventional TV networks that have been losing viewers and advertising. Facebook's ad revenue last year totaled $40 billion.
All of the games will take place on weekday afternoons, primarily Wednesdays. The agreement begins with the April 4 game between the Phillies and New York Mets. Viewers will be able to watch on smartphones, tablets, computers, and other connected devices, including home TVs.
The games will be produced by the MLB Network, meaning they'll have a broadcast look and feel. For Facebook, however, the rights allow for experimentation with things like social integration and graphics during the broadcast, enhancements popular with younger viewers drawn to digital platforms.
Facebook will also have rights to show the baseball games globally, though they won't be exclusive outside the U.S. MLB and Facebook will update the schedule on a monthly basis.
MLB will produce and distribute specially curated content, in addition to each live game broadcast, including on-demand highlight packages for every regular season game, as well as club-specific weekly recap packages for all 30 MLB teams. These will be available on Facebook Watch in the U.S. and around the world.
Earlier this year, Facebook opted against bidding for the National Football League's Thursday Night package, which Amazon.com Inc. carried last season. Facebook had bid the previous two years. The company did acquire the rights to NFL recaps and highlights, giving the league a way to reach fans on the social media service.
Facebook offered $600 million for the rights to an Indian cricket league, losing out to Fox, and has been boosting its budget for content, including live sports and original shows.