May 25, 2024

Roku to serve as new home for ‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ games

There is another way for fans to find their favorite baseball games.

Roku is the new home of the “MLB Sunday Leadoff” games, which begin this weekend with the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. The first game is at 1:05 p.m. ET, however, other first pitches will be earlier, at 11:35 a.m. ET.

The game telecasts will be produced in collaboration with MLB. For this Sunday, play-by-play announcer Chip Caray, analyst Will Middlebrooks and reporter Alexa Datt have the call.

Roku service is free without a subscription. A release from the league and Roku said an estimated 120 million have access to the service, which still might not quell angst when hardcore fans want to find their teams’ games. MLB.TV subscribers will be able to watch all 18 matchups with no blackouts anywhere in the world.

Roku’s Sunday Leadoff schedule (Graphic: Courtesy of MLB)

The Athletic reported nearly two weeks ago that the sides were in advanced talks. NBC’s streamer, Peacock, had formerly been the home of the package, which the platform created with baseball. NBC liked its two-year relationship but only wanted to pay around $10 million per year compared to the previous $30 million per season. What Roku is paying is not yet known, but it is a multiyear agreement.

Roku will also offer a new MLB Zone designed to help fans find their teams’ games using the service daily and a fully programmed MLB FAST channel. A FAST channel is free, ad-supported television.

The Roku concept has more exclusivity than Apple TV+’s current plan to show “Friday Night Baseball.” Like Apple, Roku will be the only place fans can watch the game. However, unlike Apple, the Roku games will be the only games on for an hour-and-a-half or two hours. No other Sunday matchups are allowed to have a first pitch before 1:35 p.m.

Last season, the Peacock package began on April 23. This year, the Roku games are not starting until nearly a month later with the May 19 first game.

MLB has been facing major television headwinds, especially recently with Diamond Sports failing to come to a carriage agreement with Comcast that has left 12 teams’ games unavailable to those franchises’ viewers that have that service.

A year from now, MLB also has the possibility of ESPN opting out or threatening to opt out to reduce the $550 million yearly deal it has for “Sunday Night Baseball,” the Home Run Derby and first-round playoff games. The Disney-owned network has the option in its current deal to exercise the opt-out after next season.

ESPN, like Amazon and potentially Apple, would like to be part of the solution for the failing regional sports model as MLB evolves its plans. Roku could become part of the local equation.

MLB has major agreements with Fox and TNT Sports. Fox’s broadcasts are highlighted by the World Series, while TBS, a part of TNT Sports, has a league championship series. In the past, MLB has streamed games on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images)