In a move that will make watching baseball drastically easier for fans in some major MLB markets, NBC Sports has announced it will stream games live on multiple platforms for free, beginning in 2017.
MLB was slow to embrace in-market streaming, lagging behind the NBA and NHL, but is catching up quickly. NBC’s announcement comes 14 months after Fox, which has rights for 15 of the 30 MLB teams, reached its own streaming agreement. We’re not quite at the point where every MLB fan can watch local games online (ROOT Sports and others are not there yet), but we’ve reached a clear majority.
Quite possibly. 21 MLB teams now w in-market deals. Not yet done: BAL, WAS, BOS, SEA, HOU, PIT, LAD, NYM, COL https://t.co/3lQ0rPY0Cf
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) January 19, 2017
In-market streaming seems particularly important for baseball, which has become a hyper-local sport with passionate fans watching dozens of their own team’s games while largely ignoring national broadcasts. MLB revenues have exploded in recent years thanks to lucrative cable TV contracts, and it’s in the league’s best interest to maximize those partnerships. And in-market streaming becomes even more important when the out-of-market streaming service (MLB.tv) comes with harsh blackout restrictions that severely limit which games fans can watch.
The MLB brass talks a lot about attracting younger fans and reversing the aging curve of baseball’s audience. Well, kids today don’t like to watch things on TV, they like to watch things on iPhones and iPads. Expanding in-market streaming makes the league more tech-friendly and therefore, presumably, more youth-friendly.
You’ve got to imagine MLB felt silly last season as the Cubs became the most compelling baseball story of the 21st century while being accessible to local fans only through 20th-century means. Now that problem, at least as it concerns the Cubs, has been remedied.