When the 2020 MLB season was delayed back in March, many users who had already paid for their MLB.tv subscriptions demanded refunds and were frustrated by a lack of response (in many cases) from MLB. Eventually, refunds became easier to receive (especially when the season’s start was announced in July), and those who prepaid for the full season received refunds of $76.81.
But just how many people got those refunds, and how much money did MLB have to give back? According to Sportico, the amount is over $200 million. However, it’s worth noting that the overall amount is based on an estimate of 3.5 million subscribers to the MLB app from the end of 2019.
Based on an estimate of 3.5 million paying subscribers, MLB probably sent at least $200 million and perhaps as much as $275 million in refunds last week, when payments started going out. The MLB.TV app would have generated between $325 million and $430 million in revenue if the season was held in full, based on the original subscription price ranges of $93.99 to $121.99 price.
The exact number of MLB app subscribers is a tightly held figure by the league. However, based on a year-end 2019 list of the top 10 streaming video apps from research firm Parks Associates, MLB probably has at least 3.5 million subscribers, based on its rank as the seventh-most popular paid streaming service.
Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, for several reasons. Not all of the 3.5 million MLB app subscribers are necessarily MLB.tv subscribers – some could have paid for the premium version of the app without an MLB.tv subscription, which costs $19.99. Others could have an MLB.tv subscription with the app on multiple devices (phone, tablet, etc) and could have been counted multiple times. Others could have an MLB.tv subscription without the app.
Furthermore, it’s also reasonable to assume that many of the MLB app subscribers hadn’t actually paid for their 2020 subscription yet and needed a refund. Even more people could have gotten a free subscription through T-Mobile in 2019 (theoretically counting as a paid subscriber), but didn’t pay a dime for the 2020 app before Spring Training came to a halt. Other users likely turned their auto-pay off before the 2020 season and didn’t actually pay the full price. The service is also still available on a monthly basis, so some of those subscribers may have only gotten a much smaller refund.
My general feeling is that the $200 million figure that was thrown around is a decent place to start, but is hardly a definitive number. However, I do think it’s safe to say that MLB had to dish out a significant amount of money in refunds, and despite the fact that they’re still getting at least $45 per paying subscriber on the full season plan, the league will be bringing in far less on MLB.tv subscriptions this year than they had in prior years.