By Emily @JaysGirlEmily
Blue Jays from Away
Before this season, MLB signed a deal with Facebook for the exclusive broadcast rights to a few weekday games. To put it mildly, people didn’t like this deal. One of those games took place on Thursday afternoon, with the Blue Jays facing the Los Angeles Angels in Toronto.
At first there were rumours that Canadians couldn’t access the stream, which is a lie, possibly caused by confusion with the Facebook Watch app, which isn’t available outside of the States. (However, you don’t need the app to watch the games) When it became clear that was not the case, people started complaining about how they don’t want to use Facebook and so this is a problem for them. Let me be clear – there’s a huge difference between being unable to use something, and not wanting to. That's like refusing to wear boots in the rain, but complaining when your socks get wet. The option was available, but you chose not to take it. Make a burner account. Find a backdoor stream. You can figure it out if you want to watch badly enough.
Now, if you’re a person who doesn’t want to use the smaller screen of a computer, tablet or phone to watch what you’re used to watching on a larger TV screen, I understand. That’s not something I can relate to personally, being that I watch 90% of games on my laptop anyways, but I get it. Same goes for people who live in remote areas, so their internet connection is poor. Those are both completely valid complaints.
If you paid for an MLB TV subscription, or shelled out for the extra Sportsnet channels so that you could watch every game, having to use a different platform does seem like a ripoff. I get that too, but at least a) you’re not being forced to pay extra to watch on Facebook, and b) two games (so far) out of 162 is 1.2% of the season. Even if you get a proportionate refund of your subscription fee, that’s, what, a toonie at best? Rogers owns the Blue Jays as well as the broadcasting rights on Sportsnet, so they were none too happy – and kept recommending the radio as an alternative, since that broadcast was unaffected.
My main concern was that I never like watching a ‘neutral’ broadcast. It just sounds weird if it’s not the standard Buck and Pat or Dan Shulman calling the game. Add in the unfamiliar graphics and it’s jarring, like I’m tapped into someone else’s feed. In 2015 and 2016 I didn’t like it during the playoffs either, when they kept getting people’s names and nationalities wrong, and saying Canadians couldn’t catch baseballs (that’s right Harold, we haven’t forgotten).
Not to mention, since fans of both teams have to watch the same broadcast, they have to discuss both teams. And when one of those teams features a perennial MVP, a definite Hall of Famer, and a brand-new two-way-playing marvel, they’re understandably going to dominate the conversation.
This game was the second time the Jays have been chosen for a Facebook Live game this season. The other was on Wednesday, April 18 against the Royals. I didn't get a chance to watch the first time, because I was at the ballpark for that game, but here's the good, the bad, and the so-so of this one.
Despite what I just said about unfamiliar announcers, and the fact that they seemed to stumble over one another a few times - maybe a two-man booth would be better - these guys weren't too bad. I’m certainly not going to sit here and nitpick each thing they said. They did say a few things that were ill-informed, but our home announcers do that all the time so I’m not throwing stones.
This team - Cliff Floyd, Scott Braun and Wally Joyner - kept it light-hearted in the booth, and it's always nice to hear someone unfamiliar with your team come in and praise your players. The Jays announcers see these guys every day, they're pretty used to them. The MLB Live folks raved over Estrada's changeup, called him a 'good icon' for Mexican fans, and said Devon Travis is the type of hitter who could win batting titles (if he'd just stay healthy, we know). The kinds of things that had me glowing with pride.
It was also nice to have a different look at the opponent, especially one like the Angels that we don't see very often. How else would I have learned that Trout and Pujols have a mini-hoop basketball game in the clubhouse and get very competitive with it?? I don't think Buck and Pat would be having those kinds of discussions on the air.
I loved that we didn't have to sit through commercials. Instead, they found an interesting way to fill the time between innings and pitching changes, including a clip of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. taking batting practice, and interviews with both team's managers. Since I've always found mid-game interviews to be kind of distracting, having them while there's no action on the field was a nice compromise. They had a good thing going there, until they decided to interview Tyler Skaggs through most of the fifth - an interview they then had to interrupt, because Mike Trout hit a home run and Skaggs wanted to go high-five him.
It was also kind of nice to have the option of watching on my phone without a paid subscription (I don't have MLB TV yet this year). However, this would only apply to other weekday daytime games, and only worked out this particular time because I had a late lunch, allowing me to catch the bottom of the second and all of the third and fourth. I probably would have gotten tired of the tiny screen for the whole game, and I did go home and watch the rest of it on my computer after work.
Facebook apparently also makes it easier for international fans to watch games! That’s fantastic, and a great way to grow the sport of baseball overseas. I have no problem with that whatsoever. By all means, make it accessible to people outside of North America. It’s the exclusivity that’s the problem.
Get the random fan comments off of the screen. Nobody wants them. I know Facebook gives you the option to turn off the live 'reactions' and scrolling comments (way more intuitive on mobile than desktop, by the way) but Facebook shouldn't force them on you by default. Not to mention, how many of those comments were complaining about the broadcast being on Facebook? The irony is not lost on me. I'm not here for floating thumb emojis, arguments about whether Trout or Ohtani is the better player, and guys in MAGA hats screaming about firing the front office. I'm here to watch a ballgame.
Even once you've shut them off and think you've finally escaped, they start selecting individual comments and displaying them on the screen AS PART OF THE BROADCAST. And then the announcers have to acknowledge them, and read comments, and take questions, interrupting the flow of the play-by-play. I don't care what a random guy named Bentley thinks we should do about Vlad Jr., I care about specific people's commentary, and that's what Twitter is for.
I have no clue why, but the first few times they popped up, my brain kept reading "Fan Take" as "Fake Tan". So there’s that.
I also don't love the virtual strike zone - I know a lot of other teams' broadcasts do that, but I don't like the idea in general. Luke Maile looked like he was peering through a window, and it was just awkward. The audience should have a decent enough understanding of the zone to visualize it on the screen, and umpires' calls aren't always consistent with that zone anyways, so why bother? I really prefer the pitch tracker that Sportsnet uses on their games, particularly because it shows every pitch of the at-bat, not just the most recent one. After a while, I sort of got used to the box, but having it off to the side would be less disruptive.
Presentation aside, I had a few issues with the stream itself. When I was watching on my phone, it kept skipping back a few seconds – just a word or two, just enough to be annoying. I’m not sure if this was an issue with the stream, or based on my internet (I was at school and the wifi connection seemed to be good) but it was irritating. Additionally, you can pause the stream, but in order to go back you have to click or drag on the progress bar at the bottom – there’s no button to skip back by 10 seconds like on the MLB TV player, and you can’t use your arrow keys to move around. So it’s imprecise and if, like me, you were just trying to jump to the next batter, you had to guess a lot.
A Twitter follower of mine who is hard of hearing pointed out that there’s no closed captioning option for the stream. Now, I understand that it’s hard to put accurate and up-to-date captions on a live event, but if they can do it on TV surely they can do it online. Facebook allows for closed captions on its videos – they’re built right into the platform. So while MLB is interested in making the games accessible to a larger audience, maybe they should consider maintaining the viewing comfort of fans they already have.
I'd seen complaints before about the size of the score bug in the upper right corner. Personally, I love the way Sportsnet shows the score, count and outs in one flat line at the bottom of the screen - I think it just looks cleaner. I know a lot of other broadcasts have that information in more of a rectangular shape, which is fine, although I remember most of them being at the bottom instead. Something I realized while watching on my phone, however, was that maybe the box is that big out of necessity - if you're watching on a phone screen, any smaller than that and it would be too hard to read.
My parents have one TV that's pretty small and low-resolution, and we're constantly squinting at it because we can't tell from the display if it's the sixth inning or the eighth. But when you blow that Facebook broadcast up to a 17-inch computer monitor, or an even bigger television, proportionally speaking the box is massive. (This is why they shouldn't design a broadcast specifically for mobile screens...)
I felt similarly about the Facebook Watch logo in the bottom left corner for the first four innings and the seventh onward – it’s massive and transparent, like a watermark, which makes it look like it’s an illicit stream stolen from somewhere. Couldn’t they find a way to work that logo into the score bug?
Lastly, I didn’t know what to think of the guy whose only job was to stand on the sidelines presenting players’ Instagram posts. It’s hardly exclusive content, and was a little awkward considering a few of those were a week old or more. I’d seen most of them already, but people who don’t frequent social media probably wouldn’t have. He was still an improvement over the umpteenth car commercial of the season. Although maybe too much of a good thing is bad – when do you plan your bathroom and snack breaks??
Overall, the game was OK. It was fine. I’m not encouraging MLB to switch to this format full-time (in fact, I shudder at the thought) but if they want to show a handful of games a season this way, I’ll live.
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