SBJ/November 27 - December 3, 2006/This Weeks News

MLBAM creates site for U.S. Figure Skating

MLB Advanced Media has struck a deal to manage the online operations of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the latest addition to an ever-growing profile of nonbaseball ventures.

Content will be subscription-based, with
memberships sold at $29.95 that provide
access to both live and taped content.

MLBAM, in a profit-sharing relationship with the sport’s national governing body, has created icenetwork.com, and is streaming both live and archived coverage of qualifying, regional, sectional and championship figure skating events.

“This is a terrifically popular sport, and we see a bunch of upside in this relationship,“ said Bob Bowman, MLBAM chief executive. “The participation levels for the sport are very high, even at the early ages, and it’s a natural to try to bring more of that interest online.”

Content will be subscription-based, with memberships sold at $29.95 that provide access to both live and taped content. The first live events will be streamed Dec. 2 from the junior nationals in Cleveland. Video is being offered free until Tuesday.

Other content will include 20 qualifying events from ladies’, men’s, dance and pairs competitions. More than 350,000 content streams have been accessed on icenetwork.com since the site’s soft launch last month, Bowman said.

The current product is phase one of a longer rollout that will result in a Web site that is “everything figure skating,” said David Raith, U.S. Figure Skating’s executive director. Eventually, the site will include news, statistics, skater profiles, Web logs, interviews and podcasts.

“If you look at MLB.com and think figure skating, that’s the ultimate goal,” Raith said.

The site will provide revenue to U.S. Figure Skating through subscription video, ticket and merchandise sales, and advertising.

U.S. Figure Skating’s TV deal with ABC is to expire this year, and it is talking to several networks for a new contract. Raith said the site will not affect those negotiations.

A key figure in brokering the deal with MLBAM was Chicago White Sox vice chairman Eddie Einhorn, a veteran TV executive who has also worked for years as a consultant to the USFSA in its TV negotiations.

Bowman said MLBAM is discussing similar relationships with national governing bodies of other sports.

MLBAM’s other nonbaseball work includes managing MLSnet.com for Major League Soccer, its equity interest in the World Championship Sports Network, and its promotion of musical acts through a partnership with music marketing outfit Signatures Network.

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