It was a question that had never been answered’”or even asked.
Were there enough hard-core fans to make the ultimate DVD worthwhile to produce, and would a product geared at the season-ticket holder who lives and dies with every pitch sell enough to succeed?
In 2004, Major League Baseball Productions and A&E Home Video had a hunch such products could succeed. So they came up with the idea of selling a complete DVD set that would include all the television broadcasts of that year’s World Series.
“It was pretty innovative,” said Kate Winn, A&E vice president of programming and business affairs. “It took a lot of discussion and convincing and really working together as a team. It had never been tested before, but we had a really good feeling about it.”
Understandably, some of baseball’s biggest fans reacted as if they were getting a long-awaited Christmas present.
In the dark ages before DVD, hardcore baseball fans didn’t have many options for remembering their team’s greatest moments. Sure, there were plenty of highlight films, but if you wanted the complete original broadcast, you had to do-it-yourself with a VCR and plenty of tapes, or enter the interesting world of tape trading.
“This Week In Baseball” and a highlight video for a World Series title were out and available for the regular fan, but the absolute, bleeding-Cardinal-Red (or Mets Blue) fan was left wanting, or scouring for bootlegs on eBay, for more.
When MLB and A&E came up with the idea, they didn’t know if they’d be selling a Yankees or a Marlins championship set that winter.
They got lucky.
There was no way for them to know that October would be about the bloody sock, Big Papi’s heroics and the Red Sox comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the archrival Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
By the time the World Series ended, everyone involved knew they had a bigger seller than they could have ever hoped. The set was quickly expanded to include the ALCS broadcasts as well. Add in bonus features, and fans could put a 12 DVD set on the bookshelves, complete with statistics and scoring summaries for each game on the sleeve that housed that game.
The end of the Red Sox drought meant a massive number of enthusiastic fans were desperate to get their hands on to anything that helped remind them of their fondest sports memory. And there was no better way to commemorate it than by owning the complete World Series and ALCS so they could pop in a disc and relive the moments over and over.
The Perfect Storm
Thanks to the Red Sox fans’ hunger for memorabilia, and the novelty of the set, sales quickly exceeded expectations, topping MLB’s sales lists and actually ranking No. 1 on Amazon.com’s DVD sales for awhile.
“The stars couldn’t have aligned more perfectly,” said Elizabeth Scott, Major League Baseball Productions vice president of programming and business affairs. “We were delighted to get the attention. And since then it’s proven to not be a flash in the pan.”
The success of the Red Sox DVD set opened the doors. An attempt to sell VHS tapes of great games had quickly fizzled because no one wanted to fast forward or rewind to their favorite part of a game. But with DVDs, fans can have a complete game on a slim disc, and the menu allows fans to jump from half-inning to half-inning with ease.
Other sports noticed MLB’s success. NFL Films, which had never sold a complete-game DVD before, packaged the Patriots’ run to the title in 2005 by selling the broadcasts of all three playoff games. The NBA has started selling game broadcasts of championship series as well.
The success of the first set opened the doors for Major League Baseball. All of a sudden the thousands of hours of old games in the MLB library were a potential revenue source instead of just an archive.
By the time the White Sox had won the 2005 World Series, MLB was expanding beyond just selling the latest World Series. Before long Yankees fans were getting a chance to buy the best games from the Yankees’ seemingly endless run of World Series appearances in the late 1990s, and Mets fans could purchase the complete 1986 World Series.
By last year, Pirates and Reds fans had their chance, with DVD sets of the We Are Family 1979 champs and the Reds’ wild 1975 World Series title. This year the 20th anniversary of the Twins’ 1987 World Series win and the Yankees’ 30th anniversary of their 1977 title are celebrated.
“I knew we would be able to do this very effectively across the decades,” Scott said. “We were surprised at how off the charts they performed. We knew it would do well, but we didn’t know they would resound this strongly.”
Not Everything Is Available
The only limitation on future sets would appear to be the limits of MLB’s archives. The cost of tape and storage space makes complete broadcasts from the 1950s and 1960s extremely rare. While a couple of games from the 1952 World Series have been saved, the first complete series in the MLB vaults begins with 1968, and even in that case, some of the games are in black and white because of the recording equipment used.
Major League Baseball’s library is easily the largest collection of baseball video in the world, with over 100,000 hours of content. All World Series games in the collection have been transferred to digital tape to ensure its longevity.
“We know what we have in our archive. But as recently as seven years ago when MLB Productions was brought in-house, we were opening boxes that we didn’t know what was in them,” Scott said. “Talk about a treasure hunt for archivists. We know what we’ve got now. But occasionally we will discover that someone else has something that we don’t.”
The search for more content is a never-ending process. MLB just acquired a couple of complete games from the 1967 World Series. And even for games that MLB has, there are times when additional copies are needed. When an idea for a new DVD set comes up, an archivist will pull the footage and take a look and listen to it. In some cases, it’s found that there are spots in the original recording with audio or video glitches. In those cases, MLB Productions will contact the network that broadcast the game and other sources to see if they can find another copy to replace that damaged section of the game.
“A limiting factor for us is what do we have, or what can we get?” Scott said. “It’s wonderful to have a fire lit under us to quality control entire games’”to look at the game from the very beginning to the very end and see if it is worthy being in a product like this is very new.”
The work on quality control has led to DVDs that hold up well, even for games that were originally broadcast 30 years ago. The video and sound quality of the older World Series sets does not equal the newer ones, but it compares favorably to a studio-released VHS tape.
The collection is now expanding beyond the World Series as well. In an attempt to tap markets that don’t have a recent World Series to celebrate, this year MLB and A&E are releasing a set of six of Cal Ripken’s greatest games and a Cubs set that has significant games from eight of the greatest Cubs.
If those are successful, the potential for new DVD sets grows even larger. What once was just a baseball fan’s dream may eventually be limited only by the size of your wallet and bookshelves.