T-Mobile Signs Three-Year Deal With MLB That Will See Cells Replace Dugout Phones
T-Mobile, the country's fourth-largest wireless carrier, has signed a major three-year sponsorship with MLB and its teams that also includes extensive rights with MLBAM, giving baseball its first league-level telecommunications sponsorship deal in nearly 15 years. Perhaps most notable to fans and team managers, the deal brings the advent of mobile phones in MLB dugouts to call bullpens. The complex deal, pegged by industry sources to be worth about $125M over the three years, will give teams one of three choices with regard to the dugout phones: participate fully with T-Mobile branded docking stations, use an unbranded wireless system with an MLB logo, or not participate at all. The Giants and Yankees, deeply aligned with AT&T, and the White Sox, partnered with U.S. Cellular, are expected to select the latter choice and opt out entirely. Additionally, T-Mobile will work extensively with MLBAM across the league to boost in-venue fan connectivity, a major issue across the entire sports industry and one baseball has put more focus on over the past year. T-Mobile through MLBAM also will gain access to exclusive pieces of digital baseball content and conduct various co-marketing initiatives. The league, MLBAM and T-Mobile announced the deal last night at the Int'l Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with participating baseball figures including MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan, MLB Exec VP/Business Operations Joe Torre, MLBAM Exec VP/Revenue Noah Garden and Nationals RF Bryce Harper. MLB execs described the deal as without rival in the sport with regard to its scope covering both business and baseball operations. "The technological challenges on this deal were huge," Brosnan said. "This is a story of everyone working together to deliver a new asset that would attract a new and important wireless partner after years of chasing one." T-Mobile VP/Media & Sponsorships Mike Belcher added, "We needed a property that could showcase our technology, and the different parties worked to build us a new asset that could achieve that." The new On-Field Communication Systems will use dedicated cell antennas. Genesco Sports Enterprises helped negotiate the deal for T-Mobile and will assist in marketing plans, which will include top-level branding in the MLB Fan Cave.
LONG TIME COMING: MLB last held a league-level telecom sponsorship with MCI in the late '90s. Since then, the wireless category has become an important revenue source for every other sports property. But without joint rights from MLBAM, a deal combining technology and marketing rights could not happen. Marketers have privately discussed for years their frustrations working through the varied cultures of MLB and MLBAM to strike deals. But baseball execs said solving their telecom riddle should send a strong signal to the marketplace. "This was 100 percent collaborative from Day 1," Garden said. "We've been working together (with MLB) for some time, but yes, I do think this makes a statement to the market."