Update, March 22: Over the weekend (March 20), MLB announced that fans can watch every game from 2018 and ’19 for free on MLB.tv. Hooray!
On Wednesday, both the NFL and the NBA announced that, as a way to encourage fans to practice social distancing amid Coronavirus (COVID-19), they are offering free access to past games. For the NFL, this is through NFL Game Pass. For the NBA, this is through NBA League Pass.
NFL Game Pass offers full, commercial-free broadcasts of preseason, regular season, and playoff games from 2009-19 as well as condensed 45-minute replays. Furthermore, fans can access various camera angles, film sessions, and film breakdowns. NBA League Pass offers full and condensed replays of games from the 2019-20 season along with an archive of classic games.
MLB has yet to do the same, though they are giving away some digital copies of MLB The Show 20, a video game that was just released. The league should follow the NFL and NBA’s lead and offer fans free access to MLB.tv to encourage social distancing. It costs the league next to nothing and can be a great way to maintain fan interest in a time when their attention can be diverted into any number of other directions. Additionally, it can be a great way to rope in new fans.
As much as I hate to admit this, since I am from the Philadelphia area, there was a time in the late 1990’s when I had a soft spot for the Braves. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones were my favorite players to watch for a while, not just because they were incredibly skilled and entertaining (and the Phillies were terrible), but because Braves games were always on cable TV (TBS) — free for me to watch as a fan, as long as my parents paid their cable bill. I watched as many Braves games as Phillies games back then.
MLB should have been relaxing restrictions to games years ago, but it doubly should now. According to a MarketWatch article posted several years ago, baseball has the oldest audience among the four major sports and saw the average age of its viewers rise from 52 in 2000 and ’06 to 57 in ’16. The only sports with older viewers on average are golf, horse racing, tennis, and NASCAR.
Kids are home from school for at least a couple weeks and it might be longer. If they had free access to MLB.tv, mom and dad could put their kids in front of the TV or computer monitor with Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS on and get another generation potentially invested in baseball. It’s also the responsible thing to do right now, encouraging fans to stay home and practice social distancing.