Friday, January 2, 2009

Baseball execs discuss MLB Network

By The FDH New York Bureau (posted by Rick Morris)

The MLB Network debuted on New Years Day on numerous cable outlets across the country in an estimated 50 million homes, the biggest launch in history. Needless to say, they hit a home run right out of the box by airing the complete, unedited original broadcast of Don Larsen's perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series on their opening day (although the first inning of the game is mysteriously missing from the master tape).

So what else does the MLB Network have in store for its rookie year? Two Executives -- MLB EVP of Business Operations Tim Brosnan and MLB Network President Tony Petiti -- appeared at the Sports Business Journal's Sports Technology and Media Conference in New York City in November to answer questions and discuss the Network's plans for the coming season (Brosnan handled the first part of the discussion, followed by Petiti).

Q: What's your take on the BCS deal? What does it mean for broadcasting and cable companies (ESPN has recently acquired the rights to the entire BCS Bowl package)?
Tim Brosnan: "It means ESPN has secured a Championship, it's an indicator that they have more money than anyone else to buy rights."

Q: How much value do you put on price?
TB: "The number one consideration is money. We're all in business to make money. It's about rights and distribution. At the end of the day, it's like free agency in baseball, players tend to go where the money is."

Q: The (MLB) deal with Turner (TBS) is two years old, how is it going?
TB: "It's a work in progress. We need to teach the viewership that the ALCS is on."

Q: Will World Series games be going to cable in the future?
TB: "No. If it gets to that point, Networks are going to have to make decisions on pay television."

Q: With a BCS bid that was $100 Billion more than a Network, how will big-time sports remain on Broadcast TV?
TB: "I assume ESPN is going to reach a saturation point. The question is will there be a competitor to rise up and challenge them? Maybe the networks' top-rated shows are going to decide it, like Project Runway and American Idol. The networks have got to look at this, and at the end of the day, maybe it's not a fair fight right now."

Q: Why 2009 for the MLB Network?
Tony Petiti: "50 million homes. Cable is a great business model, and baseball is great compelling content. Perhaps our fans are being underserved, so what better way to talk to fans about their own distribution. We're going to blow people away with our content and production."

Q: What is your distribution goal?
TP: "We want full distribution from all cable companies. We're up for the joust and that the content is going to be compelling enough that people are going to want us."

Q: What is the and MLB Network Synergy?
TP: "Promotion, sales and content. We're building a pipeline now to push content back and forth. They've ( got an amazing amount of data that can drive our programming. It's off to a
really good start so far."

Q: Challenges you're facing in 2009?
TP: "Where we are, I wish we could have started a year ago. We are new and must take advantage of our advertising opportunities and corporate partners."

Q: How does this tie into advertising?
TP: "Go through the list of clients and find out what we can do for them, then go from there."

Q: What have you already been doing?
TP: "Hiring staff, converting our broadcast facility, which will be the old MSNBC Studios in Secaucus (N.J.). will be relocating to Secaucus and their tape library within MLB Productions will all be in-house."

Q: How can MLBN be objective on controversial topics like steroids?
TP: "Basically, we need to be credible, to address issues, be aggressive in breaking news. We have to be able to voice our opinion."

Q: What's more important - the ability to break news or to be accurate?
TP: "The idea is, we want to be the second choice for fans, behind attending MLB games. We want to be there as the games are going on, rotating talent throughout the night. We want this to be a complimentary option."

Q: What's the look and feel of the Network?
TP: "More authentic, the treatment of logos within the graphics."

Q: How will you draw in viewers?
TP: "Promoting our schedule, do things to attract attention. We need to figure out ways to drive people to show them what we're doing."

Q: In January and February, what will we be seeing?
TP: "Our studio show, themed weeks of archived games, '30 teams in 30 days' during Spring Training. There will be 1400 live hours each year. There will be a Game of the Week. We'll take a local feed and enhance it possibly."

Q: What do you see out of ESPN, FOX and CBS that you've liked?
TP: "The use of technology - ESPN's K-Zone, Fox's talent enhancement, you add things that people view and it adds value."

Q: Any plans to take the MLB Network outside of the U.S.?
TP: "Canada, most likely."

Q: Any International Programming?
TP: "The World Baseball Classic. The Caribbean World Series, youth baseball - Ripken and Babe Ruth League Tournaments."

Q: What is your long range goal?
TP: "Our goal in five years is to get a better package of games through our distribution and production."

Q: Some high-profile talent has been announced, what helped make those decisions?
TP: "Matt Vasgersian had a unique background, he's done play-by-play with Milwaukee and San Diego, and studio work at the Olympics (Note: Don't forget the XFL!!!!), We're got Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds, Joe Magrane. We've got twenty guys coming in for auditions, we're looking at twelve altogether - two additional hosts, three-four analysts, and one or two 'Insider' guys."

Q: Bob Costas rumors are flying around, anything going on?
TP: "It would be a great thing for us, but we're focusing on staffing our studio show right now." (Note: Costas hosted the rebroadcast of the Don Larsen perfect game, along with conducting an on-site interview with the battery of Larsen and Yogi Berra at the MLBN studios in front of a live audience. Segments of that interview were incorporated into the rebroadcast. It was the first time that either Larsen or Berra had seen the game since they played in it 52 years ago)

Q: Will MLB Network have Fantasy programming?
TP: "They'll see it throughout the day. We may do some programming but we don't have a dedicated show."

Q: What are the biggest challenges?
TP: "You have to be realistic about what you build. In terms of production values you have to be realistic. For example, we can't treat our Game of the Week like we treat a Fox or ESPN weekly broadcast."

Q: What is the sports business story you're watching the most closely today?
TP: "The BCS deal. Two powerful groups. Who knows what's going to happen to big events over time."

Q: How do broadcasting networks compete?
TP: "Each Network is going to have to draw a line in the sand around a property they don't want to lose."

For more information on the MLB Network, visit:

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