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MLB is hiding video highlights so almost no one can find them

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Again, MLB demonstrates its complete lack of understanding of how its fans want to consume its product.

Al Yellon

We have spoken often here about Major League Baseball’s blackout rules and various other ways in which MLB makes it difficult for its customers to use its video product even if they want to pay for it.

But there have always been highlights available of various games, in certain cases going back several years. And you can search MLB.com’s video page for those... wait, what do you mean you can’t do that anymore?

I was taken aback this week when I attempted to watch highlights on MLB.com.

For some reason, they got rid of the damn search bar.

It’s absurd. Previously, if you clicked on the videos tab, you would see a page of the most popular recent videos, with an easy to use search bar at the top of the screen. Now, clicking on the videos tab simply brings you to the most popular recent videos, with no search bar. With all due respect to Bryce Harper and his mammoth home run on Tuesday night, that’s not what I’m looking for.

Furthermore, if you click on “most popular” to see other categories of videos, all you get are options like “spring training,” “free agent and trade talk,” and “must C,” instead of anything actually useful. Hovering over the videos tab on the main page gives you more options, including the seemingly useful “shareable videos/GIFs” option…which is not actually useful. A simple search on this page (for example, “Harper”) gives you a bunch of gifs, all of which are celebration-based, and videos from…Spring Training. Just for the hell of it, if you search for “Laureano,” looking for highlight videos from Oakland’s laser-armed outfielder, you’ll come across zero gifs and a bunch of videos from Spring Training and last season (and not his incredible throw from Tuesday night).

All that is just the introduction to the linked article above, written by Joe Lucia on Awful Announcing, posted Wednesday.

And it’s all true — and folks you know have noticed this. Read the article and you’ll see tweets from former SB Nation writer Grant Brisbee, now with the Athletic, noting that he couldn’t search for videos he was specifically looking for.

I did some poking around. You can still find videos from past games. Here, for example, are video highlights from that great comeback win over the Mariners July 31, 2016. But going back from years previous, it’s hit-or-miss. Some games have highlights available, some have pages where you see highlights listed, but nothing happens when you click on them (here’s a 2011 game, for example, where that happens).

And in any case, to find the highlight from a specific game you now have to know the date of the game and plow through past schedules to find it, instead of being able to do a simple search. It appears that on the Cubs Video Highlights page on their website, the “Editors’ Picks” go back only a little more than a week. These are the categories you can click on via that highlights page:

Some of those are helpful, I guess, but again, there’s no search function. So maybe there’s another way to find the video you want? Joe Lucia tried:

YouTube isn’t much better. Each day’s fresh content consists of….game recap videos, condensed games, and a handful of highlight videos uploaded in the middle of the night. Weirdly, at 9:30 AM Pacific, half of the games from Tuesday night didn’t get either the condensed game or game recap treatment on Youtube. A video of that Laureano throw, for example, was posted at roughly 1 AM Pacific, roughly four hours after the damn throw occurred in real-time. The other highlights uploaded, on a schedule that included 12 games, were a pair of pitcher home run videos, a compilation of Harper highlights, and a pair of great plays from shortstops. That’s it. That’s the list. You mean to tell me that nothing else happened in the other games?

And tried some more:

MLB apparently doesn’t want fans to actually share video of interesting plays, either. If you click the videos tab on the scores page, you’re redirected to the cache of highlights you’re used to seeing from games…only they don’t play if you have an ad blocker enabled. If you do disable your ad blocker, each video has a 15 second pre-roll ad. And if you want to watch multiple videos, you have to sit through an ad each damn time, no matter how long the highlight. A 15 second ad in front of a 30 second video is absurd. There are also no share buttons (Twitter, Facebook, direct link, embeddable link, etc) on any of these videos, and the page URL doesn’t change for each videos, meaning that sharing them is incredibly difficult.

This is exactly what’s wrong with baseball’s approach to younger fans. I have written about this before, but the single most important thing MLB could do to appeal to millennial fans (and fans of other ages, too) is to make it easier to find and share video highlights and GIFs. Instead, they are making it more difficult. They seem to think that things like this will engage fans:

This season @MLB will be giving fans a unique opportunity to vote for which players’ at-bats they want to watch live on Twitter – every day.

Each morning, @MLB will Tweet out a call for fans to choose which player will be the featured hitter that day. @MLB will then livestream every one of that player’s at-bats on Twitter for fans in the United States. This is scheduled to debut on Opening Day - Thursday, March 28 - and continue throughout the regular season.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction to that (and the other things at that link) is: Yawn. Just let me tweet or Facebook or Snapchat a highlight or GIF! This Business Insider article from May 2018 explains how the NBA does it right, quoting NBA commissioner Adam 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,” Silver said.

I mean, this is not a difficult concept to understand, yet Rob Manfred and his battery of lawyers seem to think that putting MLB videos into a little box and making it harder to find and/or share them is working for them, for a reason that I cannot fathom. Manfred and his henchmen are making all kinds of proposals and adjustments to “pace of play,” apparently thinking that “faster-paced games” are the way to engage younger fans.

That’s not it at all, Rob. Just give people access to video highlights and the ability to freely share them on social media. The quote from Adam Silver above is the answer. Why MLB can’t figure this out is beyond me.

#FreeMLBVideoNow