Major League Baseball and USA Baseball have reached a 10-year agreement during which MLB will handle USA Baseball sponsorship, licensing and other business rights.
The deal marks the largest-ever financial commitment to USA Baseball and provides for a consistent level of annual funding and a revenue-sharing plan from MLB Properties, the league’s business arm. Additionally, MLB Advanced Media acquires USA Baseball’s Internet rights.
“This is a watershed day of partnership for our organization,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball executive director/CEO. “We’ve never had something of this magnitude. The financial commitment by Major League Baseball, while that is an important part of it, it’s a partnership and business relationship. We’re getting hooked up with one of the most adept marketing agencies in the world that has a direct, keen interest and influence in our sport. It’s nice to be partnered so closely with an organization that markets our sport on a national and worldwide basis.
“There are things that we can’t even think or fathom that are going to happen because the resources are so deep and varied.”
Most know USA Baseball selects, trains and supports professional players for both the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics, but it extends an even greater influence at the grassroots level, governing more than 12 million amateur players. The organization, based in Durham, N.C., maintains annual college, junior (18-under) and youth (16-under) teams that face top domestic and international competition.
Partnership talks between the two sides began nearly a year ago and picked up dramatically during November’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, Seiler said.
“Major League Baseball is excited about this significant expansion of our relationship with USA Baseball,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said. “By strengthening the bonds between the national governing body for amateur baseball and Major League Baseball, we will be able to better understand both the needs and the opportunities that exist and put initiatives in place to encourage growth of the game at all levels.”
The agreement marks the most positive moment for USA Baseball since Team USA won the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Since that time, the organization has dealt with the disappointment of not qualifying to defend its medal following a 2003 loss to Mexico and then failing to advance past the second round of this spring’s World Baseball Classic.
Missing the 2004 Olympics led to a $500,000 reduction in funding from the United States Olympic Committee. Most of that money was earmarked for travel and preparations to the Olympics (a trip that wasn’t made) and no jobs were lost, but the impact was felt at USA Baseball, which had been operating on an annual budget between $1.6 million and $2 million.
That budget will increase with MLB’s support. The two sides will meet each year to map out finances based on needs and expectations. Seiler expects the budget to continue growing as USA Baseball does the same, noting that improving the organization–not making a big money grab–remains the goal.
MLB previously has supported USA Baseball through event sponsorship and funding international teams in events such as the WBC, but this annual sponsorship allows USA Baseball to allocate time previously spent on securing funding to exploring new ideas.
“There’s a level of excitement because it’s uncharted territory,” Seiler said. “We’re used to really rolling up our sleeves–that’s the work ethic here–but now we can loosen the noose and work outside the box to make proposals that we don’t have to worry where the funding is coming from.
“You go back to the financial side, and we don’t worry with how we’ll do that. It’s relieved a little of the financial burden of having to find funding. It allows us to breathe a little easier, but also to work with other organizations like Pony and Babe Ruth and Dixie and to be a better governing body.”
An early result of the agreement allowed seven games played by USA Baseball’s college national team this summer in Durham, N.C., available as free streaming video on minor league baseball’s Website (MiLB.com). MLBAM also took over USA Baseball’s Website today (usabaseball.com).
“It’s a real quick first step,” Seiler said.