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MLB needs to take a lesson from the NBA on sharing video highlights

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The NBA encourages video sharing. MLB not only doesn’t, they’re out in the wild actively taking video down.

Al Yellon

Last week, BCB’s Sara Sanchez wrote this article about MLB’s crackdown on the non-team-color cleats worn by Ben Zobrist, another example of the heavy hand the commissioner’s office has begun to take on what would appear to any reasonable observer as being a minor infraction.

In that article, Sara linked this illuminating interview with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, regarding how his league is approaching various topics, including how they are trying to engage fans.

I found this question to Silver and the response particularly cogent:

S+B: A lot of those elements you just mentioned are embedded in the structure of the game. But how much of this is a function of the league’s intention to cultivate social media?

SILVER: We promote the posting of our highlights. The highlights are identified through YouTube’s software, and when ads are sold against them, we share in the revenue. We analogize our strategy to snacks versus meals. If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.

“We promote the posting of our highlights.” “We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.”

What simple concepts, yet Major League Baseball not only doesn’t permit this, they are apparently sending out armies of attorneys to try to actively prevent fans (and others) from sharing highlights. Silver is exactly correct, watching the “snack” of a highlight definitely encourages fans to watch the “meal” of an NBA game, and social media absolutely increases fan engagement.

As you know, I like to post highlights of games in my recaps. This isn’t an easy task, given how MLB limits the ability to share highlights. For example, did you know that official team Twitter accounts are limited to two video highlights per game? This is why you often see GIFs that aren’t specifically related to a play as a “highlight” on the official Cubs Twitter account.

There are other Twitter accounts where I can sometimes find Cubs highlights. Occasionally, if a Cubs highlight is of national interest, the @MLB Twitter account will send it out. If the game’s being carried on NBC Sports Chicago, the @NBCSCubs account will send out a highlight or two. If a play is reviewed, I can find video at the @MLBReplays Twitter account, which sends out the video for every reviewed play.

Otherwise I have to look at the highlight page at MLB.com for the game to see if there are embeddable highlights. For example, here is the video highlight page from last Friday’s game, an 8-1 win in which there were several good Cubs highlights. There are 20 videos on that page. Know how many are embeddable? Six, one of which is the national anthem and two of which are interview clips with Reds manager Jim Riggleman, not really all that useful to me (and I probably wouldn’t embed a Joe Maddon clip or other interview, either, unless it was something truly significant). So that left three useful embeddable video highlights for that game... out of 20.

I mean... seriously, MLB? Those videos have ads in front of them! Why wouldn’t you want me to run your ads on my site? Why wouldn’t you want the free publicity I want to give to your product? The shortsightedness here is mindboggling.

MLB does put some embeddable highlights on YouTube, but they are not always easy to find and generally aren’t available quickly enough for them to be available for me for a game recap.

There have been attempts by independent sources to put MLB videos on Twitter. You can imagine what MLB lawyers have done to these. One of them that was doing a great job of this earlier this season was called @BallparkVids. They were posting multiple highlights of all games, along with a link to the MLB.com page for each game. Nope nope nope, said the MLB attorneys — that account was suspended.

Obviously, this isn’t just about me wanting to post highlights in recaps. It’s about the fact that it’s 2018 and one of the best ways to engage fans and get them interested in your sport is through social media, and in particular, video on social media. Figure out a way, as the NBA did, to allow sharing of highlights, quantify that, sell ads and pocket the money. If one sports league can do this, yours can too, Rob Manfred.

Get it done. It’s way past time.