MLB.TV’s growth as the top sports league streaming service

It’s been more than two decades since MLB.TV first pioneered sports league streaming services by launching its inaugural broadcast. Today, it’s the gold standard — and it keeps growing.

After a record-setting 20th anniversary season in 2022, MLB.TV is showing even stronger viewership numbers in 2023, as new innovations continue to add to the product.

“We’ve been at this for 20 years. So there’s a proud legacy, tradition and history to what we’ve done here,” MLB senior vice president of streaming and subscriptions Gabe Bevilacqua said.

The most-watched games on MLB.TV now garner many, many times more viewers than the first MLB.TV game, Yankees-Rangers on Aug. 26, 2002. That game — which made Major League Baseball the first professional sports league to live-stream a regular-season game — had 30,000 viewers. Red Sox-Orioles on Opening Day 2023 — the most-watched game in MLB.TV history — dwarfed that.

“It’s mind-boggling to think how early we were back then, but it was great,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said on the 20-year anniversary of the first MLB.TV stream. “You go back to those early 2000s, this technology, none of this existed. We knew we were onto something early, because it was sticky and people kept coming back and it kept growing.”

MLB.TV now delivers an unparalleled amount of live sports content to baseball fans around the world. More than 50,000 different MLB games have been streamed on MLB.TV.

Features like the Free Game of the Day, enhancements like the new Gameday Mode and additions like Minor League games have powered MLB.TV’s expansion and helped MLB reach a wider audience.

More than 20 years in, there’s much more on the platform than live baseball games. MLB.TV has come to include — on top of its traditional out-of-market game streaming — pre- and postgame coverage, highlights, original on-demand programming and tons of extra content.

“MLB was a pioneer in live sports streaming,” MLB executive vice president of technology and chief product officer Vasanth Williams said. “We continue to espouse this pioneering spirit to this day as we strive to make MLB.TV the best baseball viewing experience that is immersive and personalized to our fans.”

Here’s a look at MLB.TV’s continued growth, and how it keeps broadening its horizons as a streaming service.

The 2022 season was the most-streamed season ever on MLB.TV.

At the end of the year, there were more than 11.5 billion total minutes watched on the MLB.TV platform. That marked a huge gain from the last season before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2019, and there was also a significant increase in MLB streaming just from 2021 to ’22.

The total number of games streamed on MLB.TV also rose over those same time frames, as did the number of MLB.TV subscribers.

MLB.TV’s Free Game of the Day continued to play a big part in driving engagement throughout the season. One of the preeminent features of MLB.TV, the Free Game of the Day is key to MLB reaching new fans and building its audience through streaming.

“We talk about reach, and how do you find your way to new fans — here is a very easy way,” Bevilacqua said. “It just takes an email address and a password to set up an account, and you get access to a live baseball game most days of the season. And nothing sells baseball better than a baseball game.”

The number of baseball fans watching the Free Game of the Day in 2022 grew alongside MLB.TV’s viewership overall. And some of the season’s most memorable moments ended up happening during Free Games of the Day:

After the first month of the 2023 season, the numbers look even more promising for this year.

Opening Day 2023 set a record as MLB.TV’s most-watched day ever. There were 172 million minutes watched, over 50 million more than the previous top day, Opening Day 2021, which had 21 million minutes watched. That’s a 42% gain.

Not only that, Opening Day featured the two most-watched MLB.TV games of all time — and No. 1 was a Free Game of the Day.

Most-streamed games on MLB.TV in 2023

Through April, MLB.TV saw significant gains in daily users, games watched and live game minutes streamed this season compared to the start of the 2022 season.

“Our opportunity here is: How do you highlight the whole league, and what is an extremely exciting generation of players right now, with the game as exciting as it’s ever been,” Bevilacqua said. “We also want to make sure we’ve got something that is available and accessible to fans who are consuming content and media in different ways than they were 5-10 years ago.”

New features and innovations

Over the years, MLB.TV has evolved well beyond just showing the game on your screen.

In the early years of MLB.TV, the chief priority was improving the quality and consistency of the game streams. Now, the product includes much more.

“The core of MLB.TV is, you are serving a very important emotional connection from a fan to their team and to the game of baseball,” Bevilacqua said. “You need to be reliable, and you need to be high-quality, before you get into anything else. But where we are 20 years later is trying to think beyond live games.”

MLB.TV’s new features and innovations in recent seasons have been geared toward reaching a changing baseball audience, expanding content beyond live MLB games and adapting to how fans consume media in the modern world.

“We’re really preparing for a world where viewing is done much more on digital platforms,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said at the league’s 2023 Innovation and Fan Engagement Showcase. “We want to not only make our streaming more accessible, but make it a more compelling viewing experience, with things like split-screen watching, data overlays or other visualizations that really enhance the fan experience. Those types of things that we’ve invested in over time will be important for us going forward.”

The MLB.TV game broadcasts have been augmented with enhancements like “Gameday Mode,” where fans can watch a game with graphical overlays added to their live stream, including pitch-by-pitch data and more.

“One example [of MLB.TV’s innovation] is the launch of Gameday Mode this season,” Williams said. “The data-driven visualizations include real-time information for each at-bat, including pitch type and location, speed, spin rate and pitch movement. In the future, it can include other types of information, such as sports betting, that are personalized to our fans.”

The games available to MLB.TV users now include Minor League games as well, so fans can follow the top prospects on their favorite team’s affiliates, and non-MLB games like the World Baseball Classic and more.

An MLB.TV subscription also now includes access to content like pre- and postgame shows for 17 of the 30 Major League clubs, and Big Inning, MLB’s whiparound show that features highlights and live look-ins every day of the season.

“Certainly we’ve had [central features like] clickable linescores and an in-game scoreboard for a while,” Bevilacqua said. “But we want to keep thinking about different ways that we can augment the presentation of the game and take opportunities to think about what MLB.TV could be with the way people watch a game.”

The new features’ integration into the MLB.TV platform have been an early success, as MLB.TV works to keep adding to its now 20-plus-year history as a leader in sports streaming and an innovator in that space.

“Look, the best thing to get people excited about baseball, and maybe become a subscriber to a service like .TV, is the game of baseball,” Bevilacqua said. “We’re going to keep innovating on content. We’re going to keep innovating on game presentation. We want to keep innovating on reach. And we’re more excited about the next 20 years of MLB.TV than the past 20.”