SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Media

MLBAM foresees revenue jump for At Bat

MLB Advanced Media is projecting a net revenue increase of 10 percent to 15 percent from its MLB.com At Bat mobile application this coming season, even with a shift to a universal platform structure.

The MLB.com At Bat app required a separate purchase for iPad (above) and iPhone till this season.
For the first time, a single purchase of MLB.com At Bat this season will cover both tablets and smartphones. MLBAM had in the past separated the versions of the app, believing they were distinct experiences and each deserving of its own $14.99 annual fee. The shift to a universal format places MLB.com At Bat more in line with many other popular mobile apps.

MLBAM is potentially sacrificing incremental revenue, since the $29.98 cost last year of having both a smartphone and tablet version of the app has been halved. Also, a fan this year subscribing to the premium level of the MLB.TV video subscription package will get the streaming games and all versions of the mobile app for a total outlay of $124.99, because MLB.com At Bat this year is a free add-on to the video package. Last year, a similar bundle cost $149.99.

But MLBAM executives said they plan to make up the revenue shortfall and then some through increased unit sales of the app.

“We’re going to learn a lot in this new structure,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “In the beginning, the use cases were so different, but we’ve now made a change, and it’s what we should be doing.”

Also a key component in MLBAM’s plan to boost sales and revenue of MLB.com At Bat is a new pricing structure that includes for the first time a monthly subscription component. Instead of the $14.99 annual fee, users can elect to pay $2.99 a month for the full app features.

“Hopefully, this will encourage more people, more casual fans to try the product,” Bowman said.

MLBAM last year generated 3.3 million total downloads of MLB.com At Bat, about 1 million of which were the paid version and the rest a free version with fewer features. The company is projecting to boost the overall download number, as well as converting a sizable segment of the free audience over to some version of the paid side.

MLB.com At Bat since its 2008 debut has been among the most popular and critically acclaimed mobile apps in existence, even outside sports. The new version in just a matter of hours after its release last week rocketed to No. 2 on iTunes’ list of top-grossing apps.

In addition to MLB.com At Bat, MLBAM is preparing for the 2012 season a free, venue-specific app called At The Ballpark featuring check-ins, social media integration, seat upgrades, other venue-specific data and, for several teams, mobile food ordering. Many of these features were included previously in MLB.com At Bat and, to some degree, still will be. But breaking off the venue-related content into its own stand-alone product is designed to create a cleaner and less data-heavy user experience.

Extra Innings, the out-of-market game package that is the linear TV counterpart to MLB.TV, remains unlinked from MLB.TV or MLB.com At Bat. Several other major sports properties have bundled their TV and online out-of-market game packages into a combined subscription, but baseball says consumer demand to tie the two together hasn’t been high.

“We’re always looking to get customers better value. But on this issue, it’s not clear now what that path is,” Bowman said. “That path may become clearer in the next set of TV contracts.” MLB’s national TV contracts expire after the 2013 season.

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