Ah life is complete again, MLB.com bringing Grapefruit and Cactus League to the Frozen North
MLB.com is the Mercedes-Benz of sport league websites. Managed by Bob Bowman, MLB.com began in 2000 when each MLB team agreed to invest $1 million each in creating a presence on the Internet. 2007 will be the sixth consecutive season MLB has offered live video streaming of their games at MLB.com, a program that began with the 2002 season. Arguably, MLB.com’s biggest success to date was the streaming of the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball tournament last March.
At least for Major League Baseball, MLB.com has evolved from an interesting concept, to a loss leader, to a profitable venture. A March Wall Street Journal report on the dollars and cents of the MLB.com said about 15% of the site's total revenue of $195 million last year came from managing Web sites and other partnerships like the one with CBS. An additional $68 million came from subscriptions to watch live video content on MLB.com, including the 2,400 baseball games it streamed in the 2005 season. The rest of its revenue comes from ticket sales and advertising. How good has MLB interactive become at what they do, good enough that they’ve been able to market their services to other sports leagues, properties and events.
Under the leadership of Bob Bowman, MLB’s interactive division has already signed up 25 clients, including CBS, Major League Soccer and the World Championship Sports Network. Entertainers Jimmy Buffett and LL Cool J, too, have hired MLB.com to promote albums and concerts by streaming video of interviews and live performances.
Bowman has always been ahead of the curb when it comes to understanding the true power of the Internet. With most network television shows now available on network web sites, Bowman and MLB.com were at the forefront when the streaming video became a real option for sports leagues a decade ago.
The benchmark sports streamed event for 2006 was CBS and the NCAA’s streaming of the Men’s NCAA basketball tournament. While no official announcement has been made, CBS is expected to work closely with MLB.com on the technical delivery of March Madness.
"Following the unparalleled success of MMOD in 2006, we expect an even greater audience this year and so the importance of obtaining a VIP pass can't be understated as it ensures the quickest possible access to live video when the tournament begins," said Joe Ferreira, vice president of programming and executive producer of CBS SportsLine.
In addition to live video from the first 56 games* of the 2007 NCAA® Division I Men's Basketball Championship, MMOD users will have access to on-demand highlights, buzzer beaters and detailed recaps of every game all the way through the championship game. The 2007 MMOD video player will launch on March 5 with fans having the ability to watch highlights from some of the most memorable NCAA March Madness games of all time. Live video from the NCAA® Division I Men's Basketball Championship will be available when the tournament on CBS Sports begins Thursday, March 15.
In 2006, MMOD was presented free of charge for the first time since its debut in 2003, producing tremendous traffic results with over 19 million video streams and five million visits, resulting in what many experts called a watershed moment in media history.
Those figures are believed to far surpass the total number of streams served and visits recorded for any previous live event in Internet history making it quite simply the biggest live entertainment audience in streaming video history - a record that still stands nearly one year later.
Final 2006 NCAA® March Madness® on Demand (MMOD) Traffic Numbers:
MMOD served over 19 million streams of live and archived game action
MMOD recorded over five million visits during the tournament
A total of 1.3 million users registered for MMOD
The first 56 games from the First Round through the Sweet Sixteen - excludes Opening Round game.
CBS plan to offer March Madness at no charge (MLB.com is a subscription based service) seems to be generating significant advertising revenue. Bloomberg News reported earlier this week CBS has already booked between $9 million and $10 million in advertising dollars, a dramatic increased from the $4 million to $4.5 million ad dollars booked during the 2006 tournament.
CBS told Bloomberg it has already signed more than 30 companies, up from 20 last year. New names include Cingular Wireless, now called AT&T Mobility LLC, which is sponsoring the Webcast's first live halftime show. Top sponsors Marriott International Inc., State Farm Insurance and Dell Inc. all returned.
“The importance of the new stream of revenue is that the migration of ad dollars to the Internet is pretty clear,'' said New York-based analyst Andrew Baker of Cathay Financial Inc., who rates CBS shares “outperform” and doesn't own them in a Bloomberg News report. “An old-media company like CBS that's on the losing side needs to be on the winning side too.'”
Last year more than 72 million accessed the video stream of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament first two rounds. Is CBS ready for heavy-duty-usage? CBS believes they’ll be able to accommodate 350,000 basketball fans at one time. While the subscription based model has worked for MLB.com, two years ago CBS failed using the same model, generating fewer than 20,000 subscribers at a cost of $20 each. Last year more than 1.3 million people signed up for the free service.
The NBA launched NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband, on January 23, 2006. The NBA offered an innovative plan, leveraging NBA LEAGUE PASS, the league's regular season digital cable and satellite television package. The NBA offered the broadband package as an added value component to their full season subscribers. The league launched NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband which coincides with the start of the NBA LEAGUE PASS Half-Season package, offering the product for $109 for the remainder of the regular season.
"Working hand-in-hand with our NBA LEAGUE PASS cable and satellite providers, NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband is another great way for subscribers to experience the excitement of live NBA games throughout the season," said Gregg Winik, Executive Vice President, NBA Entertainment. "As an added value, the new service is the perfect complement to any NBA LEAGUE PASS subscription and no longer requires subscribers to be at their television set to access their NBA LEAGUE PASS service."
The NBA regards the streaming video as an opportunity to leverage their ‘season ticket’ package.
The National Basketball Association relaunched their Internet video streaming package in conjunction with the start of the NBA season. David Stern and company decided to follow the packaging they had developed last year, offering the opportunity to access the leagues games on the Internet as an added value component to those who purchase NBA League Pass. The cost of NBA League Pass for the 2006-07 NBA season is $199. NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband on NBA.com is not available as a stand alone purchase, or on a game by game basis. The games are all being streamed live on the Internet again as an added value component to those buying the leagues full season digital and satellite packages.
"NBA.com has been the definitive destination for basketball fans around the world to stay on top of the latest news, watch exclusive video, and follow their favorite teams and players" said Steve Grimes, Vice President of Interactive Services for NBA Entertainment. "Our new site will further enhance the user experience and allow fans to connect with our game through the latest technology."
The NBA will offer Internet video streaming in select international markets, including China. Beijing, where the 2008 Summer Games will be held, remains the key to the globalization of the NBA.
With new multi-year deals the NBA announced in early August, further positioning NBA.com/China as one of the leading sports destination in China, providing fans in the country with access to a record 87 webcasts of NBA games in Chinese, including live video webcasts of regular season and playoff contents, and complete game replays of select NBA games. Additionally, the comprehensive site entirely in Chinese will feature a series of NBA classic games, hundreds of hours of on-demand broadband video and highlights, an exclusive NBA fantasy game, live stats, blogs, extensive photo galleries, player trackers, interactive forums, chat rooms and more, all throughout the NBA season.
“Renewing our partnership with NuSports and Sohu, two experts in China’s sports Internet landscape, will impart us with more opportunities to connect with our expanding fan base,” said Heidi Ueberroth, President, Global Marketing Partnerships and International Business Operations of NBA Entertainment. “As broadband usage in China continues to grow, NBA.com/China will provide fans with access to more game action and unique broadband features than ever before.”
The National Football League the Cadillac of professional sports leagues; chose an interesting strategy when NFL officials announced their live Internet video streaming package in early September. The NFL wanting to protect the integrity of their $3.75 billion North American television agreements, decided to only offer Internet video streaming of games outside of North America.
The new online subscription service charges fans a fee of $24.99 per week or $249.99 for the entire 17-week NFL regular season and each game will also be available in archived format up to 24 hours after its conclusion.
“We are pleased to offer NFL fans around the world an innovative way to watch NFL games. The NFL is committed to taking advantage of new technologies to bring more value to our fans everywhere and Yahoo!'s proven leadership in technology makes them an ideal partner for a product like 'Game Pass',” said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s vice president of media strategy.
“We are proud to help the NFL deliver the world’s most exciting sport to the millions of football fans outside the U.S.,” said David Katz, head of sports and studios for Yahoo!. “The global reach and promotional strength of the Yahoo! network enables us to deliver this first-of-its-kind product to NFL fans around the world.”
NFL’s Sunday Ticket, the American satellite package is sold at a cost $239 for the season. Rogers Digital has the rights to market the NFL Sunday Ticket package in Canada. Canadian consumers may have the best deal anywhere. At a cost of $26.95 per month, sports fans in the Frozen North have access to the NHL, NFL, MLB and most of ESPN’s college baseball and football “Game Plan” packages. What costs American sports fans more than $1,000 annually, costs Canadian sports fans $325 annually.
ESPN’s Game Plan college football package that features more than 250 games is also available on the Internet. The package is sold for $129.00 for the year, and can also be purchased as a weekend subscription for $21.95, which will include all games through the following Saturday. Fans will also have the option to purchase a half-season online-exclusive subscription for $79.00. ESPN will also bring fans an ESPN GamePlan package for Bowl games, sold separately, late in the season.
“The passion surrounding college football seems to grow each year,” said Matt Murphy, senior vice president, digital video distribution. “ESPN is giving fans a deeper, more extensive connection to the games, whenever and wherever they want to watch.”
Added Tanya VanCourt, vice president and general manager, broadband and interactive television, “In today’s sports landscape live online content delivered via broadband connections is a fast-growing part of a sports fan’s expectations. We’re dedicated to meeting those expectations.”
From March 1-15, all sports fans with a high-speed Internet connection can watch top live college and professional sporting events and have access to the best online sports video library during ESPN360 All-Access presented by Cisco.
ESPN360 (www.espn360.com), ESPN’s signature broadband service, will feature programming highlighted by nearly 146 hours of live online programming including 62 live Championship Week college basketball games that will tip off March college hoops online. Additionally, ESPN360 will feature live simulcasts of the March 4 NASCAR Busch Series race in Mexico City and the March 12 Los Angeles at Orlando Arena Football League (AFL) game, as well as two UEFA Champions League soccer matches and exclusive live camera feeds from two NCAA Championships - Indoor Track and Field and Women’s Swimming and Diving.
360, normally available free of charge to consumers nationwide who receive high-speed Internet service through ESPN-affiliated Internet service providers, will be available to all U.S. sports fans with a high-speed Internet connection for a limited time, regardless of their service provider, during ESPN360 All-Access. It’s easy to understand ESPN’s rationale for offering anyone interested in ESPN free access for two weeks during what is being dubbed ‘ESPN360 All-Access.’ Enjoy a taste but if you want the full meal you have to change your Internet service to one supported through an ESPN-affiliated Internet service provider.
A report earlier this week that appeared in Multichannel News was the best news National Hockey League fans have heard in sometime. The report suggests the NHL will begin offering live streaming video of their games to those fans that have purchased the NHL’s Center-Ice package. The NHL at least in the interim would follow the model established by the NBA.
According to Keith Ritter, president of NHL Inter-Active Cyber Enterprises the NHL has been beta testing the live video stream and wants to ensure they’ll be able to protect their current over-the-air and cable TV partners.
“So far the test is going very well, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to offer it in the not-too-distant future,” Ritter said.
Clearly the NHL has the smallest market share of the so-called major sports, but the NHL likely has the highest percentage of displaced fans. There are many more NFL, NBA and MLB fans but hockey fans, as few as they are, aren’t being serviced by the NHL’s TV partners. NBC offers a limited schedule and while the NHL maintains Versus is a great cable TV partner, Versus’s reach is limited to the 71 million homes where Versus is available. If ever a sport was made for the Internet its hockey. One of the strongest demographics of hockey fans is their age (18-34), the age group with the highest percentage committed to the Internet.
“Young people, particularly in their teens and 20s, are not consuming sports the way my generation did. They are doing lots of things; they are multitasking. They are getting downloads, they are getting alerts on their computers or on their cellphones, and they are consuming sports in a more real-time but less full-time basis.” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The New York Times recently.
Wednesday, the Canadian Football League announced their 2007 television schedule. TSN's 50-game CFL broadcast schedule will be available for the first time ever on multiple TSN distribution platforms. All 50 games will air live on TSN and TSN Broadband.
In Canada despite TSN’s commitment to stream their complete 50 game schedule, the imminent offering of live NHL games at NHL.com several key sports media executives seem less than convinced video streaming of content is an effective delivery tool.
Tuesday both TSN and SportsNet offered live video streaming on their respective websites of their day long NHL trade deadline coverage. The NHL offered TSN's stream on their website as well. Both TSN and SportsNet experienced a significant drop in their day long coverage according to The Globe and Mail's William Houston. Houston reported that viewership on Rogers Sportsnet was down 45 per cent, to 53,000 from 96,000 last year. TSN's audience dropped 18 per cent, to 150,000 from 183,000. The Score's (a news information sports network) audience of 9,000 was a huge plunge of about 78 per cent from last year, when 41,000 tuned in. The combined decrease for the three networks was about 34 per cent, to 212,000 from 320,000.
While the score didn't stream their coverage, both TSN and SportsNet who did, didn't attribute the drop in viewership to their decision to stream their coverage on the Internet.
"Nobody believes that people would choose to watch a computer instead of a TV," TSN president Phil King told Houston.
That isn't the issue, but it clearly shows King isn't a strong believer in the power of the Internet. Few if any hockey fans will take a day off to 'enjoy' the opportunity of seeing day long coverage of hockey trades. However, the Internet does represent the perfect opportunity for those at work to follow what is happening in bits and pieces. TSN had 71,000 online visits to the video streaming of its telecast; Sportsnet had 38,525. In addition to its video stream, TSN drew 204,000 to the audio streaming of the telecast according to Houston's report.
The industry leaders the media pundits are going to closely examine are the:”big boys on the block”, MLB, the NBA and the NFL. However, if you’re seriously looking at subtle efforts that clearly indicate where the video streaming of sports is headed, look at agreements along the lines of what The Weather Channel recently created for extreme sports competitors and fans -- the launch of Epic, a broadband site featuring video that highlights the impact of weather on surfing, snow-skiing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and sailing. The new site http://www.weather.com/epic was created to illustrate the precise moment when sports meet perfect weather in the ideal geographic location. The site is a companion property of Epic Conditions, a new program debuting Sunday, March 4 at 9pm on The Weather Channel.
The Epic site is a video-centric, interactive web experience presenting captivating exclusive video provided by Warren Miller Productions. The videos delve into the extraordinary experiences of amazing individuals who are willing to risk their lives in a quest for weather-enabled adrenaline. New content will be added every week and the site will offer the opportunity for users to submit video of their own experiences with sports and weather.
"Epic is designed to showcase the power and importance of weather and its impact on outdoor activities," said Tom Flournoy, vice president of advanced media for The Weather Channel. "It also explores the positive side of weather and the joy that weather brings to people's daily lives and personal passions."
Is the Epic site going to be a destination website, one with millions of hits or one of those so-called YouTube videos that generates millions of hits? Absolutely not, but the same YouTube video that can generate millions of hits in a few shorts days is a lot like the hula hoop a toy that was popular in the 1950’s. The Weather Channel site may never be more than a niche website but it will be a site with a dedicated following, one you can certainly build a business around. Its unique content, that needs an audience that isn’t being served elsewhere.
If you’re looking for long-term success through the Internet you either have to have the rights to what MLB.com has or ESPN has negotiated with their rights holder, the NCAA, the Arena Football League and Major League Soccer or what The Weather Channel created for the extreme sports market. Unique with a niche or enough interest that you can create a destination website. What won’t work, programming or content you can easily access through your local cable system via ESPN or Fox Sports Net.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom