Major League Baseball Owners Eyeing Game Play in July

Major League Baseball owners May 11 approved a proposal to be sent to the players union that could see the national pastime resume play in July. Spring training could begin in June with the season boiled down to a 82- game regular-season.

Speaking earlier in the day on the virtual MoffettNathanson 7th Annual Media & Communications Summit, Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, said Major League Baseball would likely start in July with or without fans in attendance. Ripley said his comments were based on discussions with MLB executives.

“July has some potential for some of these leagues to start, or maybe August,” Ripley said, adding that without a coronavirus vaccine, he doubts professional sports would risk subjecting spectators to the virus.

“Are you really going to put 30,000 people into a building when there’s no vaccine yet?,” he said.

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The German pro soccer Bundesliga last week announced it would resume the remaining nine weekends of its season on May 16 — the first sports league to do so.

Sinclair, which operates the second-largest collection of sports TV channels in the country, this year is partnering with the Chicago Cubs for the debut of the Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports pay-TV platform that includes an over-the-top element. The channel is similar to the New York Yankees’ YES Network and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spectrum SportsNet LA.

With pay-TV operators continuing to charge subscribers for sports networks devoid of sports content, there is increasing regulatory concern among some states that consumers are getting ripped off.

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New York State Attorney General Letitia James last month called on seven major cable and satellite TV providers operating in New York to provide financial relief for consumers amidst the pandemic by reducing or eliminating fees attributable to live sports programming.

Ripley said there is some discussion about offering rebates to distributors for non-broadcast games.

“We’re doing a lot of research into that,” he said. “There are more sports fans outside the bundle than you may think.”

T-Mobile Giving Subs Free Year of Major League Baseball Streaming Service

T-Mobile is giving subscribers a free year access to MLB.tv, the standalone subscription streaming service operated by Major League Baseball.

The promotion, which is part of T-Mobile Tuesdays and begins on March 24, enables T-Mobile data subs unlimited access to MLB games outside their market.

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MLB.tv launched in 1995 as an audio-only format. It currently charges $25 monthly or $119 for the season.

The wireless carrier said that any T-Mobile customer on a qualifying monthly rate plan can participate in the Tuesdays promotion. To be eligible, customers must be at least 18 years old, minors need to be at least 13 years of age with parental consent, and customers in Puerto Rico must be at least 21 years old. Subs must download the T-Mobile Tuesdays app to access MLB.tv.

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Hulu Missing From Chicago Cubs Spring Training Lineup

The Chicago Cubs, like many Major League Baseball teams, begin their 28-game Spring Training season Feb. 22 in Mesa, Arizona. While inclement weather is delaying the start to many games on Saturday, Disney’s online TV platform, Hulu with Live TV, won’t be around to stream the action regardless of projected rain in the forecast.

The Cubs, together with Sinclair Broadcast Group, are bowing their jointly created Marquee Sports Network, which was supposed to stream on Hulu, priced at $54.99. Subs were to get access to 148 regular season games (not being broadcast nationally), in addition to Spring Training.

In a Feb. 21 statement, the Cubs said Marquee would be available to stream on AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and “Hulu+Live TV in the near future.” No reason was given for the delayed launch on Hulu, which recently disclosed 2.7 million subscribers — topping Dish Network’s Sling TV.

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“The provider determines the launch date for the service,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green told the Chicago Tribune.

Per ongoing secular changes in media distribution, the Cubs for the first time in their history will not broadcast games locally over-the-air TV after 71 years.

Marquee has also bowed a branded Sports Network App, enabling fans with pay-TV contracts access to live and on-demand mobile and desktop access.

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2019 World Series Commemorative Blu-rays Arriving Dec. 3

Shout! Factory Dec. 3 will release The 2019 World Series, the official recap film of Major League Baseball’s championship series, on Blu-ray and DVD.

Narrated by NBC “Today” anchor Craig Melvin, the recap film will guide viewers through the highlights of the Nationals’ run to the first championship in franchise history, with Washington winning the National League Wild Card en route to overcoming the American League champion Astros and their MLB-best 107 wins.

The historic series also marked the first time every game was won by the visiting team, as the Nationals, led by Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, came back from a 3-2 series deficit, and were behind 2-0 in the seventh inning of the decisive seventh game.

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Also due Dec. 3 will be The 2019 World Series Collector’s Edition: Washington Nationals, an eight-disc set on Blu-ray and DVD containing the game broadcasts for the Nationals’ seven-game victory over the Houston Astros. The set will also include the National’s clinching game of the National League Championship Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The special edition game boxed set includes SleeveStats inserts, which offer official stats and game trivia, as well as four audio options for each game — the national broadcast, the Washington Nationals Radio Network, the opponent’s Radio Network, or a Spanish-language version of the broadcasts.

Report: Amazon in Talks to Buy Majority Stake in Yankees’ YES Sports TV Network

Amazon and Sinclair Broadcast Group are reportedly in early discussions about a joint bid to acquire the New York Yankees’ YES regional sports TV network.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Amazon and Sinclair would be acquiring the 80% stake currently owned by The Walt Disney Co. – and valued from $5 billion to $6 billion. The Yankees own the other 20%.

Other possible YES suitors include pay-TV operator Altice USA and investor group RedBird Capital.

Amazon, unlike Netflix, is no stranger to live sports. It currently streams NFL Thursday Night Football on Prime Video, in addition to other sports internationally.

The talks are in the preliminary stage and face several challenges, including Major League Baseball’s streaming video platform, MLB.tv, and existing pay-TV distribution deals between the Yankees and Comcast, Altice and Charter Communications.

Disney assumed control of Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network LLC following its $71 billion acquisition of select 21stCentury Fox assets. In addition to carrying Yankees baseball, YES airs the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets basketball games, among other content.

Fox owns 21 another regional TV sports networks across the country, valued at around $15 billion.

Facebook Watch Video Service Expands Globally

Facebook Watch, the social media behemoth’s streaming video platform launched a year ago, is expanding worldwide. The platform will be available to Facebook users globally beginning Aug. 30.

The move comes more than two years after Netflix launched globally, and Amazon followed expanding Prime Video to 200 countries in December 2016.

“This is a really important moment for us,” Fidji Simo, head of video at Facebook, said in a statement. “It’s been a year of real progress for Watch. Every month, more than 50 million people in the U.S. come to Watch, and the total time spent has increased 14 times since the start of 2018.”

Maybe, but according to recent data from The Diffusion Group, more than 50% of Facebook users don’t know what Watch is. And fewer still use it. A noteworthy statistic considering Facebook is spending upwards of $1-2 billion on original content for the platform.

Content includes access to select professional soccer and Major League Baseball games, “SKAM Austin,” an episodic teen drama series, based on the Norwegian Web series “Skam,” and “Red Table Talk,” a talk show starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, and Adrienne Banfield-Norris that premiered on May 7 and reportedly has nearly 3 million viewers.

Matthew Henick, head of content planning and strategy and media partnerships at Facebook, said worldwide access to Watch would help third-party publishers and content creators better monetize their videos and better understand how their content is performing.

“[We’re] excited to bring a new distribution platform to our partners around the world,” he said.

 

Oscar De La Hoya‘s Golden Boy Promotions Inks Live-Boxing Streaming Deal with Facebook

Olympic Gold medalist Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions has signed a partnership with Facebook to bring ad-supported live boxing to the social media giant’s Watch streaming platform.

The first of five live fights on Facebook Watch begin Aug. 11 featuring Jesus Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) defending his WBA World Featherweight title against Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (26-1, 14 KOs) at the Avalon Theatre in Los Angeles.

Watch is available for free on mobile apps across Apple and Android, on desktop, laptop and smart TV apps.

Launched last August, Watch is projected to generate $565 million in revenue this year, including $200 million on original content spending, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak. The average Facebook user spends 50 minutes daily on the social media platform.

The platform earlier this year inked content deals with Fox News, CNN and Major League Baseball – the latter involving exclusive access to 25 afternoon games.

“This is a game-changing deal for the sport of boxing,” De la Hoya said in a statement. “The reach of Facebook is just incredible, and our sponsorship conversations will truly resonate with brands across all categories.”

The 1992 Gold medalist and world champion in six weight divisions, De la Hoya will be the executive producer on each fight, with Facebook incorporating real-time viewer interaction through its social media platform.

“Through this unique partnership, a global community of sports fans will have access to some of boxing’s most exciting live bouts and be able to interact with the action like never before,” said Devi Mahadevia, North America live sports programming lead at Facebook.

 

Facebook Snags Rights to 25 MLB Afternoon Games

In a first, Major League Baseball has signed a deal with Facebook enabling the social media behemoth (1.4 billion active daily users) to exclusively stream one afternoon MLB Network game per week. The deal reportedly is worth upwards of $35 million.

The deal, which primarily involves Wednesday games, starts April 4 with the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the New York Mets. Facebook reportedly will include graphics and links during games to enhance the social media appeal among younger viewers.

Last May, MLB and Facebook partnered to stream select Friday night games – the league’s first regular-season live streams on a third-party platform beyond MLB.com and MLB.tv. Facebook previously streamed Spring Training games in 2011.

Unlike Netflix, which thus far is shunning live sports programing, Facebook, YouTube and Amazon have become active platforms/bidders for National Football League, UEFA Champions League soccer and NCAA basketball live contests.

“Much like the migration of sports from broadcast to cable, you’re reaching these milestones where the combination of the financial incentive and the audience allow you to make the next great leap,” industry consultant Lee Berke told Bloomberg.com. “This is part of the next great leap.”