SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

MiLB engineers a major relaunch

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Minor League Baseball over the next two weeks is relaunching Web pages for MiLB.com and more than 150 individual teams as well as starting new mobile sites for the clubs, marking the first major results of a new cooperative agreement with MLB Advanced Media.

The Minor League Baseball-MLBAM pairing yielded the Baseball Internet Rights Co., a holding company owned by Minor League Baseball and operated by MLBAM. The agreement, ratified in December 2008, proved to be contentious in some corners of the game during its formation, as the disparities between the size of large, Class AAA markets and smaller markets in the Class A and Rookie leagues are quite large.

But since that ratification, Minor League Baseball and BIRCO executives have spent the last 15 months steadily convincing teams to opt in to the voluntary agreement. The current roster of teams participating in BIRCO is now nearly twice the number of clubs whose sites were previously hosted by MLBAM on an individual basis.

There are 160 affiliated clubs that could be tapped for the effort.

MLBAM estimates that traffic to the new
MiLB.com and team sites will increase.

“We’re now at a point where we have meaningful critical mass and can really tell a big story to national advertisers,” said Frank Burke, BIRCO chairman and owner of the Class AA Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts. “It’s been a long process, and for some, it’s been a little hard to imagine being part of a national network, but we can now get a vast number of eyeballs and, importantly for a lot of us, a lot of content and functionality that would have been absolutely impossible to develop on our own.”

Burke cited as an example a mobile site for his Lookouts club as something that would not have been a fiscal priority for the team on its own.

MiLB.com and the individual team sites that were hosted by MLBAM combined for about 7 million unique visitors and 50 million page views per month during the 2009 season, according to MLBAM estimates, numbers that are projected to rise in the new structure.

Much of BIRCO’s development to date has been about creating an operating structure that will generate the desired efficiencies of scale while still allowing for local-market individuality and choice. The established platform will offer clubs one of three levels of operating maintenance, depending on how much they want to do themselves on a day-to-day basis.

Within that framework, MLBAM will sell national advertising. Individual clubs will retain some local inventory both on their home pages and within their interior Web pages. Site design will have many common elements but not a fully uniform structure like the 30 MLB team sites have.

  Ticketing also will remain largely up to individual clubs, provided the team’s provider is one of several pre-approved by BIRCO and MLBAM.

On top of the newly developed mobile sites for the clubs, minor league digital product offerings this season will again include a live game video package and live GameDay functionality for each of the Class AAA leagues and the Class AA Texas League.

The Class AAA Round Rock (Texas) Express said that they, and perhaps some other larger minor league clubs, may not see a net increase in digital revenue right away from BIRCO. The Express has been webcasting games for the last decade. But Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner has been aggressively pushing a “Power Of One” concept since his December 2007 election, attempting to have the affiliated minors act as a more unified and powerful entity.

“Overall, the sky’s really the limit for us now, but the big thing is we need to get out and tell our story,” said Reid Ryan, president and chief executive of Ryan Sanders Baseball, owner of the Express and the Class AA Corpus Christi (Texas) Hooks, another BIRCO member.

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