Wednesday, September 3, 2008

MLBAM and Teams Feuding Over Live Local Streaming of Games

Major League Baseball hopes to launch local online streaming of live games next season after it failed to come to an agreement with Comcast on a potential test of Chicago Cubs and White Sox games earlier this year, marking the latest entry in what has long been a growing and divisive issue within baseball. Industry sources said Comcast and MLBAM would have split ad sales revenue, and geo-tracking technology was in place to ensure that the game would only be available only to the CSN Chicago subscribers. But talks for the test to occur in the 2008 season remain deadlocked after they broke down over several issues, including whether the games would be available on or the CSN Chicago site. The MLB-Comcast talks are important on several levels. As the quality of video streaming continues to improve, the application of local market streaming has taken on new prominence in recent months. NBA executives recently disclosed plans to stream games locally starting next season, a first for a major U.S. sports league. That will likely set up a battle between the league, the individual clubs, regional sports networks and cable operators. In baseball, the issue has become even more fractious, particularly with regard to its internal politics. MLB Advanced Media, which manages the interactive rights for all 30 clubs and acts as a key source of revenue sharing for the industry, has for years successfully sold live streaming of games through its MLB.TV out-of-market package, a product that applies local-market blackouts like its TV counterpart, Extra Innings. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig nearly a year ago proposed a revenue-split between individual clubs and MLB Advanced Media to “break the logjam.” But the financial terms of such a split remain in dispute. And the issue has been further complicated by the recent renegotiation of the digital rights deal between ESPN and MLBAM in which ESPN’s Sunday night and Wednesday night games will be streamed on Executives with several MLB clubs, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while ESPN is a valuable partner and lucrative source of income, the new deal grants the network rights far in excess of what’s available to individual clubs and regional outlets.

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