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Sports on TV is no longer the only game in town

Considering the Dodgers' record, a person might think their fans wouldn't mind that one game on an afternoon during the first week of May wasn't televised.

But if calls to The Times' sports department are any indication, they were outraged that the Dodgers' game at Arizona last Thursday was exclusive to Facebook.

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"Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the Dodgers surprise us once again," one reader wrote in a letter to the editor. "The management team has teamed up with Facebook to bring live games on line. … Fans are unhappy but who cares? Apparently, the Dodgers don't."

Another wrote: "OK, what's the deal with the Dodgers on Facebook? Most of us old-timers [some of the biggest supporters of the Dodgers] don't even know what Facebook is. Congress didn't know."

For "old-timers" and others who might have missed it, the sports media revolution is here.

It is not on television.

It is on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3, WatchESPN, ESPN+ and on and on.

ESPN began pursuing the online market in 2002, and five years later created an iPhone app. The network has worked since to deliver sports to consumers however they want it delivered, whether on television, a desktop computer, laptop, a tablet or a phone.

Network executives named the strategy Best Available Screen. BAS.

As other companies have followed, viewers have discovered that the experience can be BAD.

Many baseball fans have complained about the partnership between Major League Baseball and Facebook. Although the quality has improved since the first Facebook Watch game this season, on April 4, it is not the same for many viewers as watching on a high-definition television screen. Some fans also have been caught by surprise that the games are only on Facebook. Even if they paid for SportsNet LA in order to see the Dodgers, they couldn't watch last Thursday's game on television.

MLB was fortunate in one regard. Imagine the outcry if that had been the game that occurred Friday night when four Dodgers pitchers combined for a no-hitter. Or if it had been the Angels game that same night in which Albert Pujols notched his 3,000th hit.

Among games that have been scheduled are two involving the Angels — at Toronto on Thursday, May 24, at 9:30 a.m. and at Seattle on Wednesday, June 13, at 1:10 p.m. Don't say you weren't told.

Most of the 25 Facebook games have yet to be announced, but Matt Gould, vice president of communications for MLB.com, said they will continue to be weekday games that normally don't have large television audiences.

According to MLB data, Facebook Watch had more than 1 million views during the Dodgers' game. However, it counted as a view even if a viewer remained on the site for only three seconds. There are no reliable figures of how many people watched the game, but it appeared to have peaked at around 43,000.

"It's an experiment," Gould said. "The context here is that that are literally hundreds of millions of people who say they are sports fans. We're trying to find ways to tap into that audience."

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So is everyone else in the online sports business.

On the day before the Dodgers played on Facebook, ESPN announced a Twitter package that will include live SportsCenter updates, fantasy football podcasts and the capability of fans to interact with the hosts of a new college football show. ESPN already has original SportsCenter content on Snapchat.

One interpretation of ESPN's social media deals and its recent creation of the subscription based ESPN+ (available for $4.99 per month through the network's app) is that companies are attempting to lure cord cutters, mostly millennials who have divorced themselves from cable and satellite television.

No doubt that is one motive. ESPN has dropped from 100 million television subscribers in 2011 to about 87 million today. But the network also is attempting to attract other sports fans with programming not available on television or any of its growing family of SportsCenters.

ESPN+ exclusively has "Detail" in which Kobe Bryant analyzes an NBA playoff game from the night before and "In the Crease" for those following the NHL playoffs. "Draft Academy" was a series of programs following players, including Sam Darnold, in weeks leading to the NFL draft. A fantasy football show debuted Monday. It also has about 300 live events per month, some involving MLB, golf and boxing but most for fans of sports such as college baseball and softball, soccer, rugby and cricket who are underserved by television networks.

"It's a response to the changing times, the changing sports landscape," said Jeff Fellenzer, who teaches media classes at USC. One, "Sports and Media Technology," is about this subject.

"If I go to a sports bar with friends to watch a Cleveland-Toronto game, we're not going to sit around one of our laptops," he said. "We're going to watch on television. But, at home, there's a certain demographic that's going to use the most convenient screen. It's all about providing content you want to wherever you want it."

The vote here for the most creative recent approach goes to the NBA for allowing fans during certain games to buy the fourth quarter on its League Pass app for 99 cents. If you believe the cliche about NBA games, you're probably asking if the price would increase for only the last two minutes.

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