Facebook’s experiment in exclusively streaming baseball games has not gotten off to the greatest start. The site’s first broadcast of the year, on April 4, was a relative disaster, with intrusive graphics, a glitchy stream, poor mobile adaptability and a flow of frustrating comments from (sometimes trollish) viewers. Over the two broadcasts since, Facebook has cleaned up its display, implementing a much smaller and tidier scorebug, but the first impression has been hard to shake.
Facebook and MLB face a bigger problem than clunky graphics, however: Not that many people are watching their games.
Facebook broadcasts have averaged between 65,000 and 85,000 concurrent viewers over the league’s first three games, according to data obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. The league’s Facebook experiment is admittedly in its infancy, but that’s far lower than even the lowest rated baseball game aired on television.
Last week’s game between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays was MLB’s highest rated streaming game of the season, netting 6.8 million global views (which is measured when a viewer watches the broadcast for at least 3 seconds). By comparison, the Phillies first Facebook game (which had a rain delay) earned 4.3 million global views.
That 6.8 million number looks impressive, but it’s including viewers who tune in for a few seconds to see what a baseball game on Facebook looks like, then leave immediately. In a world where people click absent-mindedly on all kinds of crap before continuing on to the next webpage, those views are not doing anyone much good.
The figure that matters most, the average number of concurrent viewers, is not a promising one for MLB and Facebook. The fact that only 65,000-85,000 people across the whole country have been watching these games — which have featured mostly playoff contenders, including some in big markets — suggests the audience is not yet there for this package. A Mets-Phillies or even Cardinals-Brewers game distributed nationally should be drawing at least several hundred thousand viewers, not 70,000. Whether fans are showing up but leaving too quickly or not showing up at all, Facebook has itself a problem.
Obviously it’s too early to declare Facebook’s experiment in exclusive baseball coverage a failure. The platform is only three games into a 25-game schedule, in its first year doing this, and there are kinks still to work out. In a way, viewership isn’t even the most important consideration for Facebook right now, as it simply figures out how producing a baseball broadcast works.
But at the same time, it’s fair to wonder whether Facebook moved too fast, whether it should have continued airing non-exclusive streams, as it did last year. Then the spotlight would be off and the viewership issues would seem much less dramatic.
Facebook’s fourth exclusive broadcast of the season will begin Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET, when the Phillies take on the Diamondbacks. We’ll see whether a few more people tune in.