SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MiLB, MLBAM near renewal of digital deal

Minor League Baseball and MLB Advanced Media are close to completing a multiyear extension to the Baseball Internet Rights Co. agreement, its joint operating structure for the minors’ digital rights.

The new deal, expected in the next 30 days, will continue a working relationship that began in 2005 and was expanded dramatically in 2008 with the creation of BIRCO. Under the pact, MLBAM hosts and manages MiLB.com and individual team sites for more than 150 affiliated minor league clubs. A series of mobile and video products, including live video streaming of every Class AAA game, also has been developed.

The original BIRCO deal was not due to expire until after the 2012 baseball season. But after a 2011 that saw double-digit percentage growth in MiLB.com network traffic, drawing more than 14 million monthly unique users during the peak of the summer, according to internal metrics, both sides were motivated to pursue a new term sooner.

“Deals are not done until they are done, but these talks seem to be flowing amicably and in a positive direction,” said MiLB President Pat O’Conner, who was formally re-elected to a new four-year term last week at baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas.

The pending BIRCO renewal continues a year of long-term contract extensions for MiLB. The organization in March signed a continuation of its master Professional Baseball Agreement with Major League Baseball lasting through 2020 and last month struck a new labor deal with its umpires lasting through 2016.

The new BIRCO pact is not expected to create significant changes to the existing structure, and will focus more on technical and operational tweaks. Individual minor league teams are allowed to select one of several pre-approved online ticketing vendors, and share in digital advertising revenue with MiLB and MLBAM.

But BIRCO’s original challenge was creating a digital rights structure that could serve large-market Class AAA teams, all the way down to Class A and Rookie-level teams. After some rugged early days establishing the joint model, the accelerating growth in traffic, product development and online advertising has created widespread benefits for its members, executives said.

“We believe we’re really beginning to see traction in the growth of our network traffic, the various mobile applications and so forth,” said Art Matin, Mandalay Baseball Properties president and chief executive, and BIRCO chairman. “There’s a lot of optimism about where the digital business is going and how we’re positioned.”

MLBAM officials were unavailable for comment.

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