For the second season in a row, Major League Baseball is yanking games off television and placing them on a social media outlet.
Last year it was Facebook. This time it’s YouTube.
The Cardinals will be affected twice this year, just as they were in 2018. And again it will be weekday afternoon contests. But unlike last season, when the two games Fox Sports Midwest lost were early in the season (April 11 and May 30), the pair that are set to be pulled from FSM this time are in the stretch run — including one in the final full week.
Moving from Fox Sports Midwest to YouTube are two Redbirds road contests, Aug. 7 against the Dodgers and Sept. 25 against the Diamondbacks.
Those are part of a package of 13 games, all after the All-Star break, that MLB has sold to YouTube. The first was the Dodgers-Phillies game Thursday, with Indians-Blue Jays up next at 6 p.m. Tuesday. MLB Network is handling the production work, as it did last year with the Facebook games. And they again will be available for free — this time at the youtube.com/MLB site or by searching for “MLB” in the YouTube app. But that shuts out fans who aren’t computer savvy.
As a byproduct, Facebook’s schedule and impact have been significantly reduced this year. In 2018 it had 25 weekday afternoon games and had exclusive rights to them. This year the social media giant has six, but they also can be on local TV.
The financial value of the MLB-YouTube deal has not been disclosed after last year’s contract with Facebook reportedly brought about $32 million to Major League Baseball. But at what cost?
Not only did fans complain loudly, they also didn’t watch at nearly as high a rate as usual. In St. Louis, according to a meter on the screen tracking the number of devices streaming the Cardinals’ Facebook games, the audience peaked at about 78,000 for the April 11 contest and at approximately 64,000 for the May 30 game. In contrast, Fox Sports Midwest averaged about 150,000 viewers in the immediate St. Louis area alone for Cards midweek afternoon games last spring, according to interpretation of Nielsen ratings figures. That didn’t include its audience in outlying areas or people watching in public places.
FSM is in its second season of a 15-year, billion-dollar deal to televise Cards games and again loses two contests it had planned to show, but it likely will recoup some of the revenue in the form of a rebate for having the contests pulled, plus saving costs that would have been associated with producing the telecasts. FSM officials declined to comment on the situation.
MLB officials haven’t even acknowledged that the Sept. 25 game is part of the package, after waiting until Thursday to announce that the Aug. 7 contest has been moved. But several sources have confirmed the latter date.
“It’s definitely an MLB right to control the national telecast schedule, and (those games) would fall into the category of a national telecast,” said Cardinals Senior Vice President Dan Farrell, who oversees the team’s broadcast operations.
“We’ve got to be supportive of this,” he added. “We think the new media strategy and new distribution platforms that MLB has chosen to partner with are done in the best interest in broadening the reach of the game.”
He said the impact on fans is lowered because both of the Cards games selected are weekday afternoon contests.
“They’re picking our games that probably would be our lowest-rated ones (of those weeks) and trying to build an audience on a different service,” he said. “From that standpoint it makes sense to have exclusivity” on YouTube.
The Sept. 25 game is the finale in the YouTube schedule. It it is being played in a domed stadium, making a postponement of that contest highly unlikely.
The big-picture motivation for MLB is to try to appeal to younger fans, who prefer social media to traditional TV. The recent All-Star Game drew its lowest rating on record, as Nielsen reports that just 5 percent of homes in the nation with a TV tuned in to Fox’s telecast. Among viewers ages 18-49, the figure was a measly 1.9.
In St. Louis, where the game aired on KTVI (Channel 2), the overall rating among all viewers was 8.7 — but it was just 3.9 for the 18-49 crowd, and for those 18-34 it was 3.2.
“Major League Baseball’s greatest responsibility is to ensure that today’s youth become active participants in our game as players and fans,” commissioner Rob Manfred said two years ago when it was announced that the Cardinals and Pirates would be playing a regular-season game in Williamsport, Pa., while the Little League World Series was going on there. MLB “has a commitment to building a stronger connection between young people and the national pastime.”
But is the answer to move games from telecasters such as Fox Sports Midwest and its related streaming outlets, which fans are used to — and pay for — to a device that is easily accessible to many fans but leads to a blackout for others, mostly older, who do not access websites or apps?
Here is a look at some of the varied comments posted on Facebook during its streaming of Cardinals contests last year:
• “The production looks good, but I resent paying for MLB Extra Innings and its coincidental MLB Premium TV and having this game on Facebook only. It’s bad MLB money grubbing.”
• “Commissioner Manfred if this is the best you can do for ideas, you might want to see what the wise butt that suggested new Coke to Coca-Cola is doing these days.”
“If you told my grandpa I was watching a game on my phone, he would still be dead. Progress is good.”
• “My 94 year old client is upset he (doesn’t) have (a) computer or smart TV!!! So wrong to take game of(f) air for your long-term fans who are not technological updated.”
• “Love the broadcast (it’s) so easy to watch while working on desktop” computer.
• “We’re a retired couple in our 80s. We pay extra to receive all the Cardinal games on TV. Now they take our games away and sell to Facebook. Very unfair!”
• “It’s the future of TV people. Get a smart TV and watch it on your TV. Or live stuck in the 1900s with a TV sitting on top of a broken TV like we did in the old days!”
“Media Views” returns Aug. 2