Greetings from the Las Vegas Hilton, where the merger of the baseball and rodeo industries may have created the most bizarre marriage the city has seen since Britney briefly wed that guy from her high school.
That’s right, minor league baseball has been sharing quarters this week with the fine folks attending the National Rodeo Finals, populating the Strip with more Tracy Ringolsby look-a-likes than Elvis impersonators. Yet the Winter Meetings stops for nothing, not even these strange circumstances set to the soundtrack of incessant slot machine bells and whistles.
The biggest headline to come out of the minor league meetings is the near finalization of the Baseball Internet Rights Company (BIRCO), a controversial deal four years in the works that will put minor league team websites under the singular umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
Pat O’Conner said in an interview Thursday afternoon in the Hilton lobby that nearly 100 percent of minor league teams have signed on to join MLBAM, though the deal became official once the minimum required teams agreed to terms several months ago. The deal has not been without controversy, as the disparity in teams’ presence on the web has created varied needs and concerns about whether MLBAM technology matches some club’s current level of sophistication. O’Conner admits that he needed to "conjole" some teams into agreeing to the BIRCO deal, but that ultimately "this is a good deal. Is it the perfect deal? Probably not. But it is a good deal that allows us to move forward."
A few other notable aspects:
• Beginning Dec. 31, MLBAM will no longer control teams’ merchandise sales. Currently, MLBAM purchases the merchandise with teams receiving brand royalties from the sales. Teams will now take over control of merchandise sales, with the option of using MLBAM online software.
• Teams can continue to use their current online ticket agencies and that MLBAM will work with any recognized ticket company.
• O’Conner said the goal is to have all the new team websites up and running by April 1, but teams can continue using their current platform if they have contractual obligations.
• If teams choose, they can have complete control over their website by using MLBAM software and will not be relegated to contacting the company every time they want to change online content. O’Conner said it simply depends on how much involvement each teams wants with its website — some may prefer to run national minor league stories filtered through MLBAM.
• While new advertising revenue will be shared among all teams, existing local ad revenue will not be put into the sharing pool, O’Conner said.
• A group of minor league team owners will form a supervisory BIRCO board of directors to oversee the relationship between teams and MLBAM.
A New Online World
Uri Gueva nearly went into shock four years ago upon first hearing the news of the Baseball Internet Rights Company (BIRCO) deal that would shift minor league baseball teams websites into a singular umbrella run by MLB Advanced Media. Now with the deal on the verge of being finalized, the president of Infinity Pro Sports said the deal will hardly end his relationship with the minor leagues despite losing roughly 40 teams’ websites to MLBAM.
"I have good clientele that doesn’t want to go (to MLBAM)," Gueva said. "This just forced us to be smarter and more creative."
And change the way the company does business.
Infinity Pro Sports, which enters its 10th year of existence, had long been one of the major website providers in the minors. Rather than fight what Gueva calls a losing battle against MLBAM, Infinity has created "BAM-friendly tools" to help complement teams’ new online presence.
Though Infinity can no longer develop teams’ primary websites, they do develop fan websites and operate online stores for their current customers who will soon be heading to MLBAM. In a new package of services, Infinity helps teams create web 2.0 content by branding MySpace pages that refer back to their main pages.
Since teams are not required to break current contracts with providers, Gueva said that he will retain roughly 20 teams for at least the 2009 season — though he realizes it is just temporary.
Gueva said they are well positioned for the loss. Four years ago, affiliated baseball comprised nearly half of the company’s business. Now it is 10 percent.
"It forced us to grow and do things differently," Gueva said. "We look at (our new services) as enhancing versus competing with BAM."
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