SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Media

MLB.com mobile traffic breaks 50 percent

MLB.com generated 51 percent of its total traffic in July from mobile devices, the first time the site and perhaps any other major online sports destination has gained more than half of its overall traffic from mobile.

The total, compiled from internal MLB Advanced Media data, is a sharp jump from the 37 percent of typical monthly traffic MLB.com derived from mobile devices last year, and the figure was just 8 percent in 2008. But the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets, MLB Advanced Media’s strong presence in iTunes, and baseball’s flow of daily games has led the site to cross the 50 percent threshold at least several months ahead of internal projections.

“The trendline is irreversible,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “More and more, mobile is how our fans want to consume our content.”

ESPN, arguably MLB.com’s biggest rival in terms of wireless sports content, in recent months has gained about 76 percent of its traffic from the wired Internet and 24 percent from the mobile Web and its battery of mobile applications, according to its internal data.

Bowman said the shift is somewhat bittersweet: Broadband Internet traffic is now the minority share for MLB.com just as it gets a better handle on metrics there. MLBAM, like other major sports sites, has been working with comScore Media Metrix in recent months on new measurement technologies to supplement traditional panel-based methods.

As a result, MLB.com traffic in comScore’s sports ranking for July was 17.4 million unique visitors, up sharply from 12.1 million in July 2010 and less than 10 million in several other recent months. July’s comScore numbers were the first published using the new methodologies. But privately, active work on the issue between MLBAM and comScore has been happening for several months, and during April, May and June, the new comScore measurement methods yielded an average 81 percent increase in monthly uniques.

The change is expected to help boost MLBAM’s ad sales business.

“It’s definitely more accurate now, and it is helpful as it relates to our ad business, perhaps for the postseason, and certainly for next year,” Bowman said.

Third-party mobile traffic measurement is much more unsettled. In particular, many of the tracking technologies used for broadband have been shown to slow the delivery of mobile content to unacceptable levels.

Outside industry executives were not surprised by MLBAM gaining a majority of its traffic from mobile, and called the shift historic.

“There’s very soon going to come a point, if we’re not already there, that what you choose to do in mobile, as a property or publisher, is more important than your core website,” said Tom Richardson, president of industry consultancy Convergence Sports & Media LLC.
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