It might not surprise you to learn that many fans, writers and media personalities aren’t too thrilled about Facebook having exclusive broadcast rights to Wednesday afternoon’s Mets-Phillies game. It’ll be the first of 25 weekday games to be aired exclusively on Facebook Watch this season, games you won’t find on cable or MLB TV.
Despite being famously amenable to change and not at all tethered to routine and familiarity, baseball fans are mad.
Perhaps it wasn’t the savviest move for MLB to tap its most perpetually aggrieved fanbase as the guinea pig for the Facebook experiment. Mets fans are better at getting angry than most, and are better at voicing that anger more loudly than all, though the anger is not uniform. The spectrum seems to span from the mildly inconvenienced to the inconsolably outraged. Some are just frustrated that they’ll have to take a few extra steps beyond flipping the channel to SNY before watching baseball (firing up the Apple TV or Chromecast is hard work, man). Others, who may have never bothered to ever create a Facebook account or use the Internet regularly, are understandably irate.
Some of the anger is justified, if only in this particular moment. People want to be able to watch baseball without having to fork their private data and information over to a company that has used said data for insidious means. Those who have never signed up for Facebook, gave it up a long time ago or relinquished it recently in light of current developments deserve to be able to watch baseball too. Wanting to protect your personal information and/or not be subsumed by an addictive platform should not inhibit you from watching Noah Syndergaard square off against Aaron Nola, and I’m sympathetic for this sect.
But resistance to technology for the sake of being resistant to technology, and maligning MLB for trying to integrate new platforms into its broadcast strategy, is missing the larger point.
As of this January, 214 million Americans were on Facebook, while young people are continuing to cut the cord faster than expected rates. I’m a 27-year-old with a cable subscription and, anecdotally, I’m a dying species. Many of my friends have happily stopped paying for cable, and I’ll bet my small social circle is representative of the larger societal trend. Young people are leaving cable, and where MLB is concerned, they’re no longer watching the local cable stations that have exclusive rights to an overwhelming majority of their product.
Marry this last notion with MLB’s current efforts to liven and freshen up its product for a young generation growing as fast as its collective attention span is shortening. We know about baseball’s inherent disadvantages to basketball, football and soccer when it comes to winning over Gen Z, and we know mound visit limits, pitch clocks, automatic intentional walks and extra-inning debauchery in the minors are all flawed, insubstantial means of appealing to young fans.
So why not embrace MLB airing games on a platform more popular with its most critically important demographic than cable? In a vacuum, MLB is taking a positive step by experimenting with new means of broadcasting for the sake of growing its young audience. I understand Facebook was an unsavory choice for many, and don’t discount people’s feelings about this particular social network affecting how they feel about their baseball being wrested away from their familiar cable station, and wonder if MLB partnering with Twitter or Amazon or a less toxic company would’ve elicited a more positive reaction.
I also get that it’s still very early in the season and Mets fans are thirsting for as much baseball as they can drink. And maybe you pay for MLB TV and don’t appreciate paying for a game you won’t get to watch on platform. But take the long view, if just for a second. It’s one game out of 162. It’s a weekday afternoon game, which means if you’re going to watch it, you’re one of a relative few. And above everything else, it’s MLB showing in earnest that it cares about its future, something that we should all be deeply invested in, because Mets games on Facebook are better than no Mets games at all.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports