Can baseball succeed through control?

by Mathew on June 17, 2007

Newsweek has a story in the latest issue that looks at the success of Major League Baseball’s online strategy, which the magazine says is making about $400-million a year through MLB Advanced Media (or BAM, as everyone apparently calls it). It is growing at about 30 per cent per year and has about 50 million visitors a month. A million subscribers are apparently paying for video and audio of games and other services, and the whole enterprise is said to be a model for how a sport approached the Internet.

snipshot_e4ca6jn96ru.jpgThe only problem with that, however, is that MLB is doing exactly what I would argue you shouldn’t do — and what all sorts of other media is being encouraged (or convinced by failure) not to do — and that is to stomp around waving lawsuits and trying to control every aspect of the content. This is something the Newsweek piece doesn’t really get into until the end of the story, and even then it doesn’t really deal with it in depth. It does mention the lawsuit against Slingbox, which has the nerve to allow people to watch baseball games wherever they are, instead of where MLB says they should watch them as a result of deals it has signed with broadcasters.

It doesn’t mention the recent clash between baseball and bloggers — although that involved the ejection of a newspaper blogger from a college baseball game, not a Major League game (there are suggestions that ESPN is to blame). Still, the issue is the same: broadcast rights versus the Internet. It’s a clash that is only going to grow in importance, I would argue.

And then there’s the even more ridiculous phenomenon of MLB trying to argue in court that fantasy sports teams should pay the league for the right to use the names of baseball players. What if someone talks about a game with friends at a bar? Presumably they should pay for that too.

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