Baseball At Bat Online

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Baseball throws out its first broadband pitch March 31.
Major League Baseball is premiering MLB.TV., a broadband package of about 45 out-of-market games each week.
The online package of games, delivered at 330 Kbps, is the first foray by a professional sports league into high-speed delivery of sports programming.
The package is modeled after MLB Extra Innings, which has been offered by DirecTV for about eight years.
Like MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV will carry roughly the same number of games each week-about three to five for each team-and will be subject to the same restrictions in that it cannot carry games on Sunday or Wednesday nights, when national broadcast restrictions apply, and it cannot carry any local in-market games. The online offering costs $79.95 for the season or $14.95 per month. Users can also purchase individual games for $2.95 each.
MLB Extra Innings starts at $139 on satellite and cable.
MLB expects to sign up about 20,000 to 30,000 subscribers this season, the first year it’s being offered, said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media.
Within a few years he predicts that subscriptions could rise to the millions, but it won’t replace TV or the ballpark.
The package is designed to be an add-on rather than a competitor, he said.
“Is the Internet a viable alternative for watching a few innings on a Tuesday night as you answer e-mail or close shop? Absolutely. Will it become the dominant form of delivery? Probably not,” he said.
Users will probably tune in at work and minimize the screen until a Sammy Sosa or a Derek Jeter comes to bat, for instance, he said. That experience could get viewers psyched up for baseball and carry over to their watching at home on TV.
The goal is, then, to grow the whole baseball pie and increase viewership and interest in America’s pastime both on TV and in the ballpark.
MLB tested the service last year with nine regular season games and 22 playoff games and went live during spring training with nine free games so viewers could check out the quality of the video.
Other sports leagues may follow suit, Mr. Bowman said. “I think others leagues will because it’s a great way to draw fans, and I don’t think it will detract from TV. It will augment it,” he said.
MLB.TV could drive subscriptions to MLB Extra Innings, said Bob Marsocci, a DirecTV spokesperson. The vast majority of fans still prefer to watch a game on TV as opposed to the Internet, he said.
Still, the potential online audience is huge. MLB estimates that on average about 50 percent of each team’s fans live outside the geographic area of their team.
This year the league will carry the home team’s stream for each game. The feed will include ads from the local broadcaster or cable channel, but eventually MLB plans to offer to sell that airtime itself.
MLB is principally promoting the package on its Web site, www.mlb.com, which generates about two million to three million visitors a day. MLB will market the package through voiceovers and crawls on the TV broadcasts.
The service is a novel concept that furthers the reality of convergence, said Jimmy Schaeffler, senior analyst with The Carmel Group. “I think it points to a trend when you have a hugely successful major sports entity willing to try something new. It’s a foundation block for something that opens a great deal more creativity,” he said.