Some comments on yesterday’s Boomer and Gio show on WFAN struck a funny cord. As is the wont of sports talk radio, people were complaining. That morning it was about Wednesday’s Mets game being only available to view on Facebook Watch. This is via the recent agreement between MLB and Facebook that provides some regular season games on an exclusive basis.
The bit that got my attention was when both Boomer and Gio started saying how unfair this exclusive agreement was to Mets fans… that taking the games off TV was tantamount to treason by MLB.
I guess their memories aren’t too long. Surely Boomer Esaison, who grew up in the New York area the same time I did, remembers when almost all baseball coverage was on free, over-the-air stations – WOR for the Mets, WPIX for the Yankees. However, for the past 20 or so years, since the creation of the MSG, YES, and SNY networks, we’ve seen almost all game coverage transition to regional sports networks. The fans who could watch almost all games for free, have had to subscribe to pay TV (and in some cases, pay for a sports tier) to get games.
One could argue that coverage on Facebook Watch – which is free, aside from the data you’re letting Facebook know about you by creating an account (the implications of which we all know more about now than a few weeks ago) – is actually a benefit for fans who can’t afford or don’t want pay TV service. Certainly Dodger fans would have appreciated it when the Dodgers’ RSN was unavailable to most of Los Angeles for the past four(!) seasons in a dispute over carriage fees.
We all know that we’re in a stage of dynamic change in TV (or premium video, if you prefer), with lots of experimentation in outlets between traditional and streaming sources. Let’s call it an extended spring training that could take years for the “managers” to find out which “players” in which “positions” make up the strongest team.
Sports is one of the last frontiers in terms of streaming. The various SVODs have gotten the hang of comedies and dramas, but sports and sports streaming remain a stronghold of legacy TV/media – even exclusive streaming experiments with digital-first companies still use the legacy networks to produce the coverage. As long as that’s the case, legacy TV will retain its primacy in sports and keep one of the last bastions against cord-cutting safeguarded.
David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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