MLB has had a tough time finding a potential home for its package of non-exclusive midweek games, which aired on ESPN for years, but no longer will under the network’s next TV deal. But a suitor has reportedly emerged from the mist, and it’s about as unconventional a partner as you could imagine.
Per the New York Post, MLB and Barstool Sports are discussing a deal for the midweek package. Details remain sparse, and any deal would likely include a gambling element to the broadcasts.
MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling.
The talks have started recently, and while they have picked up steam, an agreement is not yet a certainty. One source deemed it “50-50.”
So, here’s the elephant in the room about any deal MLB strikes for midweek games: will the broadcasts be exclusive? If so, the cost will be significantly more expensive for an outlet, and there will likely be more apprehension from MLB’s older fanbase if a digital outlet nabs the rights (Barstool, Amazon, YouTube, WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com, etc) to the package.
If the package isn’t exclusive, MLB (theoretically) should have more potential bidders in the market for the games due to the lower cost. But it’s also a double-edged sword: a lack of exclusivity, while also making the package cheaper, also lowers its overall desirability (thus, the reason ESPN excised those games from its latest TV deal) for outlets looking to add live content hours to their platforms.
I also think that going heavy on the potential sports betting aspect somewhat limits the audience here, a concern I had last week when writing about Sinclair’s direct to consumer app. Viewers in states without mobile sports betting, including California, Florida, and Texas, wouldn’t get any benefits from the betting content. If the games ended up being exclusive, viewers in those markets (and others) would essentially be forced into watching a game broadcast featuring elements not applicable to them, which seems counterproductive.
Overall, it does seem like the midweek package will end up as more of a second-screen, non-exclusive experience as opposed to the more traditional national broadcasts. If that’s the eventual outcome here, it’s the latest step in a sad, but inevitable, decline for what was once quite a vaunted part of the weekly MLB package.