Good luck finding Thursday's Phillies game on television.
Fans hoping to watch one of baseball's hottest teams take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park at 1:05 p.m. will once again have to log into Facebook, which for the second time this month, has exclusive rights to air a Phillies game.
The game is part of a new deal between MLB and Facebook that allows the social media giant to exclusively air 25 baseball games this season on Facebook Watch, baseball's first foray into digital-only national baseball broadcasts in an attempt to reach a younger audience.
Thursday's game also won't be the last Facebook-exclusive game for the Phillies this season. On May 10, the Phillies' 1:05 p.m. matchup with the San Francisco Giants will also air exclusively on Facebook. New Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta is slated to start in that game, which should draw more eyeballs to Facebook's broadcast.
MLB and Facebook haven't revealed the entire schedule yet, because it's largely dependent on the number of national broadcast windows remaining for each team. Here's the schedule so far for MLB-Facebook games (all times are Eastern Standard Time):
– Thursday, April 26 – Diamondbacks vs. Phillies, 1:05 p.m.
– Thursday, May 3 – Dodgers vs. D-backs, 3:40 p.m.
– Thursday, May 10 – Giants vs. Phillies, 1:05 p.m.
– Wednesday, May 16 – Rangers vs. Mariners, 3:40 p.m.
– Thursday, May 24 – Angels v.s Blue Jays, 12:37 p.m.
– Wednesday, May 30 – Cardinals vs. Brewers, 1:10 p.m.
– Wednesday, June 6 – Diamondbacks vs. Giants, 3:45 p.m.
– Wednesday, June 13 – Angels vs. Mariners, 4:10 p.m.
– Wednesday, June 20 – Braves vs. Blue Jays, 12:37 p.m.
– Wednesday, June 27 – Royals vs. Brewers, 2:10 p.m.
The league's first Facebook game, a rain-delayed April 4 matchup between the Phillies and the New York Mets, got mixed reviews from viewers and sports media observers due to the interface's laughably large graphics, a comments bar that often obscured the action on the field and issues relating to the livestream. At one point in the fifth inning, the entire broadcast froze for tens of thousands of viewers during a montage of Mets captain David Wright.
But MLB has been tinkering with its Facebook broadcast in recent weeks, reducing the size of the score bug and shifting it to the right side of the screen, which has improved the game's presentation.
Facebook broadcasts have averaged between 65,000 and 85,000 concurrent viewers over the league's first three games, according to data obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. The league's Facebook experiment is in its infancy, but those numbers are far lower than even the lowest-rated baseball game aired on television.
Last week's game between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays was MLB's highest-rated streaming game of the season, netting 6.8 million global views (which is measured when a viewer watches the broadcast for at least three seconds). By comparison, the Phillies' first Facebook game (which had a rain delay) earned 4.3 million global views.
One thing MLB isn't going to do is change its strategy regarding the announcement booth, which rotates in different analysts for each game. Other than MLB Network's Scott Braun, who will continue to handle play-by-play duties on many Facebook games throughout the season, a rotating cast of analysts will join the broadcast, depending on which teams are playing. This week, Phillies television analyst Ben Davis and MLB Network analyst and former Diamondback Eric Byrnes will join Braun in the booth, with MLB Network host Alexa Datt handing reporting duties.
"I think it's exciting," Braun said. "And I think from the fan perspective, they've enjoyed hearing someone that can relate to their team."
Braun, who has been with the MLB Network since 2012, couldn't be more excited about calling games on Facebook this season, even if the lack of commercial breaks means he's not able to make it to the bathroom through the entirety of the broadcast, which can total nearly four hours.
"Zero breaks, and we've done three games," Braun said. "And even when we finish, we immediately go on Instagram Live right after the game and take questions for about 20 minutes."
When I spoke to Braun, MLB's production team hadn't finalized which features would air during today's game. But in addition to segments on the Philly Phanatic and outfielder Odubel Herrera's hair, Braun hopes to do something on Phillies pitcher Pat Neshek, who is an avid card collector and was upset when Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke refused to give him his autograph. He also hopes they'll be able to air a segment featuring MLB analyst and former Phillies slugger Jim Thome breaking down Phillies outfielder Rhys Hoskins' swing.