SBJ/20090316/This Week's News

YES leads RSN sites into new territory

The YES Network this week plans to relaunch its Web site, with the enhanced online presence influenced significantly by a new three-year agreement with MLB Advanced Media.

The new Yes Network site (top,
with current site, center) features
more video, more blogs, and a
design more like the
(bottom) and sites.

While there is no leaguewide agreement yet on live in-market streaming of games — an issue that has been actively debated within baseball for several years — YES’s moves are emblematic of regional sports networks seeking to maximize their online profiles within the current framework.

The new-look will feature three video highlights per game, up from two in the prior accord with MLBAM; a new design that resembles and the team site; an extensive series of text and video blogs from both network personnel and outside sources such as the River Ave. Blues blog; and greatly expanded social-networking capabilities.

“We want this to be a complement to,” said Michael Spirito, YES vice president of business development and digital media. “We certainly don’t want to duplicate what they’re doing and think we can bring forth a lot more content and value to the fans.”

Despite the anemic advertising market, YES sold several title-sponsor deals for the updated site, including Chevrolet returning for a player-of-the-game segment, and Papa John’s and Avis buying into text-messaging functions supported by YES and MLBAM.

Financial terms of the YES-MLBAM pact were not disclosed, but the deal includes revenue-sharing provisions.

Other new content initiatives for the YES site include a weekly video feature that explores the intersection of sports and entertainment culture, and in-game chats with former YES announcer Jim Kaat.

“The idea is to go way beyond just that [Derek] Jeter went two-for-three last night, and have a full range of experiences,” said Kevin Sullivan, managing editor.

YES Network is not alone in retooling its Web site. Other RSNs have been similarly active over the winter, ramping up for the 2009 baseball season. A look at several:

A new VP is driving change
at CSN Philly.

 Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia: The net last fall hired Rich Libero, former NHL vice president of editorial and production, to be its new vice president of digital media. He has led efforts for a redesigned network site that is expected to debut shortly and feature additional video content, a deepened focus on fantasy material and improved navigation. A deal with online developer Jacked provides a significant second-screen component to complement CSN’s TV coverage.

Also high on the priority list has been bulking up the RSN’s editorial presence to position CSN as a viable news source.

“There’s no shortage of local competition in our market, but we want to be a pre-eminent destination for breaking news and analysis,” Libero said.

CSN Philadelphia additionally will have a daily staff-produced blog on the Phillies’ farm system, which has three of its affiliates within a 90-minute drive of Citizens Bank Park.

The network does not have a deal with MLBAM for video highlights, but like other RSNs is watching the NBA’s emerging efforts with in-market game streaming as a potential forerunner for what may happen in baseball.

A potential test of in-market baseball streaming last year in Chicago with Comcast was shelved, and the broader issue remains unresolved over a variety of issues, including revenue sharing provisions and who would host the games online.

SNY continues to expand
its blog roster.

SportsNet New York: New interactive elements for the RSN, home to the New York Mets, include an online, postgame radio call-in show; several Twitter feeds designed to exploit the exponential rise of that real-time social-networking platform; and expanded analytical coverage both in video and text form. SNY also holds a deal with MLBAM that grants it use of two online video highlights per game, and a video-sharing deal for non-game material with the New York Daily News extends the network’s reach to the newspaper Web site.

SNY, seeking to take on a more universally New York tone than some of its local competitors, also last fall added a second prominent Yankees-related blog, Bronx Banter, to its emerging blog network. The blog joins Yankees-themed on the site.

“We’ve always endeavored to be the home of New York sports and never simply a Mets network,” said Fred Harner, SNY general manager of digital media. “You’ll see us as the season begins and evolves continue to expand our coverage of the Yankees and the other teams in town.”

NESN, MASN: Each of these two team-controlled RSNs, whose owners have been among the more active and vocal on the online streaming issue, will broaden and deepen their pre- and postgame content, with on-air and studio personalities such as Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice and Buck Martinez contributing regular segments, and behind-the-scenes and feature material also targeted for significant expansion. Neither NESN, serving New England, nor MASN in the mid-Atlantic corridor, holds game highlights deals with MLBAM, but each will trade heavily on its extensive access to players, managers and coaches.

Fox Sports Net: The Fox regionals, which carry 14 MLB clubs, are developing a plan to roll out locally focused Web sites later this season that will utilize nonlicensed MLB footage and original FSN programming, said FSN spokesman Chris Bellitti.

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