Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres runs past third base in the 8th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 18, 2021 at Petco Park in San Diego, California.
Matt Thomas | San Diego Padres | Getty Images
Sports fans streamed Major League Baseball more than ever through its first three weekends of the season as the sport continues to battle through Covid-19 and political backlash.
MLB said live games on its over-the-top service, MLB.TV, garnered more than 1.3 billion minutes of streams from opening day, April 1, through April 18. That’s a 12% increase compared with the first 18 days of the shortened 2020 season and up 43% compared with the same time frame for the 2019 season, the league said in a release.
MLB’s streaming service allows consumers to view out-of-market games. Fans streamed 121 million minutes of live games on opening day, making it the most-watched day in MLB.TV history.
The record high in streaming viewership comes after some political backlash, however.
MLB decided on April 2 to relocate the 2021 All-Star Game after controversial voting laws were passed in Georgia. The July 13 game was scheduled to be played at the Atlanta Braves Truist Park, but the contest was moved to Colorado.
Republican lawmakers criticized the move and threatened to revoke antitrust laws that favor MLB. According to a recent report from research company Morning Consult, MLB’s favorability rating fell 35 points among Republicans after the relocation.
MLB is also coming off a strong viewership around ESPN’s Sunday Night package. Using Nielsen stats, the Disney-owned property said its Sunday MLB package is up 33% compared with the entire 2020 average.
Through the first two weeks of the telecast, an average of 1.58 million viewers are tuning into the Sunday Night game. That number was roughly 1.19 million throughout the 2020 season.
The two parties are nearing an agreement around a new media rights deal, as ESPN’s eight-year, $5.6 billion rights package is set to expire. Currently, the network pays MLB about $700 million per year for rights, including Sunday Night baseball and the All-Star contest including the Home Run Derby.
But there has been speculation ESPN could part ways with the weeknight package on Mondays and Wednesdays. Unlike the Sunday games, the weeknight games are non-exclusive as local markets also broadcast the game, which means ESPN loses viewership.
Some media pundits believe the package is worth $150 million to $200 million per year. MLB has already locked in new rights fees with Fox Sports and AT&T-owned Turner Sports.
MLB returned to a 162-game schedule this season after a 60-game campaign in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that fans watched more than 1.3 billion minutes of streams.