Baseball likely gave more than $200 million back to fans last week in the form of refunds for mobile app subscribers, according to data compiled by Sportico. MLB Advanced Media refunded the bulk of a season subscription to its MLB.TV app to adjust for the shortened slate of games.
MLB offered streaming TV subscribers refunds of $59.18 to $76.81, depending on whether the subscription was for watching the out-of-local-market games of one team or of every team. Fans have until the end of August to request a partial refund. Based on an estimate of 3.5 million paying subscribers, MLB probably sent at least $200 million and perhaps as much as $275 million in refunds last week, when payments started going out. The MLB.TV app would have generated between $325 million and $430 million in revenue if the season was held in full, based on the original subscription price ranges of $93.99 to $121.99 price.
The refund stems from the decision to play an abbreviated 60-game schedule, down from the normal 162 regular season games. While the price-per-game after the refund is more than the original package, the league supplemented its video offerings by boosting game archives and loading up reruns of the old weekend broadcast TV staple, This Week In Baseball.
The exact number of MLB app subscribers is a tightly held figure by the league. However, based on a year-end 2019 list of the top 10 streaming video apps from research firm Parks Associates, MLB probably has at least 3.5 million subscribers, based on its rank as the seventh-most popular paid streaming service.
MLB ranks ahead of ESPN+, which has “more than 3.5 million subscribers,” according to information parent company Walt Disney Corp. told analysts in November. Showtime, which ranks ahead of MLB at seventh on the Parks list, is believed to have at least 4 million streaming subscribers, though parent company Viacom doesn’t disclose specifics. The other pro leagues keep their app subscriptions numbers close to the vest as well. World Wrestling Entertainment had 1.39 million paying subscribers at year-end 2019, according to its annual report.
MLB declined to comment on the estimates. Parks Associates declined to discuss estimates on its figures.
It is possible MLB’s subscriber base is higher. The 3.5 million number has appeared in media reports as early as 2015. The amount of refunds could be lower, however, since MLB subscribers also had the option of applying the refund as a credit to next season’s subscription. The suspension of spring training on March 12 appears to have hurt this year’s subscriptions, according to Steve Nason, the research director of Parks Associates.
“Towards the end of March is a huge ramp-up time for MLB, and Q3 is another peak time for MLB with the playoffs,” said Nason. Parks consumer survey data showed that 29% of households with a sports streaming subscription had an MLB.TV subscription, whereas in the third quarter of 2019, 38% of sports streamers had an MLB.TV package.
However much money MLB has taken in and refunded for its app, fans are still watching – on the app, at least. With the start of the season on the week of July 19, MLB app usage leapt 19 times the rate of the prior four weeks, placing it with ESPN as the highest used sports apps in June and July, according to App Annie, a mobile data and analytics provider.