Blue Jays games shown on Facebook only could be a sign of things to come

The Toronto Blue Jays' game on Wednesday afternoon was shown exclusively on Facebook. It's part of a trend that has seen several sports leagues sell digital-only rights to new players like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.

MLB, other sports leagues embracing digital rights deals

Wednesday afternoon's game between the Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals in Toronto was available exclusively on Facebook. (CBC Sports)

If you're a Blue Jays fan, the team's hot start likely had you excited for the next game. You probably couldn't wait to turn on the television and watch Wednesday's matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

But if you did, you were disappointed, even though the Blue Jays beat the Royals 15-5.

The late afternoon game was one of 25 Major League Baseball contests this year that broadcast exclusively on Facebook, including another Blue Jays game on May 24. The social media giant paid $35 million US for the rights, according to a report by Bloomberg. Both of those Jays games are available on radio.

The 25 Facebook-only games are mostly on Wednesday afternoons. Viewers will be able to watch on their smartphones, tablets, desktops or other internet-connected devices, including smart TVs.

Fans may notice a few differences with the game presentation when they log onto Facebook's MLB Live page. The games will have a TV-broadcast feel but are being produced by MLB exclusively for the Facebook format. Rather than the Blue Jays' familiar broadcast crew, fans will get MLB Network personalities, including former players Cliff Floyd and Jeremy Guthrie.

Maury Brown, who covers the business of sports for Forbes, says it makes sense for MLB to partner with Facebook. Baseball, like other major sports, is experimenting with delivering games in different ways to see what works best.

Wednesday's game, which was free to stream, was the third Facebook broadcast of the season. The results so far have been mixed.

"The first one was certainly rough," says Brown. "They were figuring out how the graphics would work and they were making adjustments in-game."

At the same time, Brown says, the Facebook games offer a unique opportunity for fans who like to be on social media while watching.

"I can't watch a game without social media, and that's a large part of the appeal for [MLB]: there's a solid part of the fan base that likes to engage," says Brown. "But it is difficult to do comments while the game is streaming. It really chews up the screen space."

'We're learning'

Fans haven't exactly embraced the move. Some pay a premium for cable sports bundles or shell out for the MLB broadcast package so they can watch the games on the big screen, and have been disappointed by the Facebook-streamed version. Complaints have included misshaped graphics and viewers' comments scrolling over live action.

Both MLB and Facebook have promised improvements.

"We're still in the early days of having live sports, and we're learning with every broadcast we have on the platform," Facebook said in a statement. "Fortunately, we have a great partner in Major League Baseball innovating on our platform and listening to feedback from fans to adjust the broadcast in real time."

MLB is the latest professional sports league to test the possibilities of alternative broadcast and delivery methods. Facebook and Twitter have both carried NFL games. Facebook also has deals in place to broadcast some European soccer and U.S college basketball games. And Amazon recently acquired the online rights to the NFL's Thursday night games. 

"The real question is: Do you start getting [games] more through digital than you do from a traditional cable or satellite provider?" Brown says.

"It's the idea that your television simply changes from what you receive your cable or satellite through to basically a large computer monitor on the wall. That's absolutely happening and it's happening right now."

About the Author

Jamie Strashin is a native Torontonian whose latest stop is the CBC Sports department. Before, he spent 15 years covering everything from city hall to courts and breaking news as a reporter for CBC News. He has also worked in Brandon, Man., and Calgary. Follow him on Twitter @StrashinCBC


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