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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The stupidity of MLB 

There are so many ways in which MLB seems to try to shoot itself in the foot. The anti-marketing campaign of Bud Selig, where he says that baseball is so unpopular, the league needs to kill off a couple of franchises. The way Selig has begun resorting to municipal blackmail on stadium deals, threatening relocation or perpetual mediocrity if cities don't build new stadia. The whole Montreal Expos fiasco.

But now, there is something that tops even all that.

MLB is working on killing off fantasy baseball.

Oh, maybe that's a little melodramatic. They aren't trying to kill it off...rather, they appear to be trying to bring it under their sole control. But their ham-handed attempts at doing so are simply going to alienate fans and jeopardize the influx of new fans to the game.

As a piece in USA Today explains, mlb.com, the league-run website, has bought the rights to license fantasy games, and plans on enforcing that aggressively, with many longtime purveyors of online fantasy baseball leagues -- including Yahoo and ESPN -- being left out in the cold. One such company, CDM, has already filed suit against MLB.

As the USA Today article explains:

"CDM vice president Charlie Wiegert suggests another reason for the suit: MLB 'is about to put the whole fantasy industry at risk.'

"Bob Bowman, who oversees MLB Advanced Media, disagrees. MLB recently paid an estimated $50 million over five years to the MLB players union to take control of online fantasy licensing. And Bowman says there's only one goal: 'We want more fans playing more fantasy baseball.'

"Bowman suggests MLB might end up with four or five major sites, as well as mlb.com, that will be officially licensed, down from about 13. About 12 small-scale sites draw fewer than 5,000 players and are expected to retain licenses.

"Greg Ambrosius, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, suggests giving fewer consumer choices isn't likely to increase consumption: 'It would be tough to take all the fantasy choices now available and put them under just a few umbrellas.'"


Okay, let me get this straight...their goal is to get more fans playing more fantasy baseball.

And they think they are going to achieve this by limiting the number of sites that can offer fantasy baseball?

What the hell is going on here? How in the world can this Bowman clown actually say that with a straight face?

This is so stupid, it makes my head hurt just to think about it. Fantasy baseball draws more fans to the game, gets casual fans more interested in the game, and gives hard core fans one more outlet to fuel their obsession. Encouraging widespread fantasy baseball ultimately is a great free marketing tool for MLB.

So what do they do? Do they work with Yahoo and ESPN and the others, to get "more fans playing more fantasy baseball"?

No. Instead, they lock out longtime fantasy baseball operators from the game, and then hope that fans who have been using certain sites for years are committed enough to trek over to MLB and pay whatever fees they require.

This makes me so angry, I can't even put it into words. This is such a ridiculous, such an indefensible decision by MLB, I can't believe that they are actually trying to go through with it. For a lousy $10 million per year, they are actively working to restrict the ability of baseball fans to participate in fantasy baseball, and then have the gall to claim that they are doing it to encourage "more fans" to play "more fantasy baseball".

These people are clownshoes. They are absolutely unbelievable. The people at MLB have the worst tin ear when it comes to marketing and their fan base of any organization I can think of.

And at the end, it won't matter. A lawsuit has been filed, columnists are going to write snide, sarcastic columns on the subject, MLB is going to be hit with all sorts of criticism, and the traditional online FBL vendors will get to carry the games again.

Most likely, MLB will cave. They are going to take a huge p.r. hit, and decide to crawfish on the issue.

But if they don't, I think the CDM lawsuit is likely to prevail. As the USA Today article explains, at its crux, the question is, does anyone own statistics? I don't believe that the Belo Corporation has to get a license to run batting averages and home run totals in the Dallas Morning News. I don't pay anyone at MLB whenever I reference Alfonso Soriano's steal totals or Ryan Drese's ERA. So how in the hell can MLB prohibit these online vendors from using statistics that are in the public domain to run fantasy leagues?

The bottom line is, they can't. This is a losing battle. And it is a losing battle that is just going to give baseball another black eye, right on the heels of the ridiculous Jose Canseco scandal.

I swear...sometimes I think MLB is just TRYING to see if they can drive the fans away.

25 comments
Comments:
Why you gotta be hating on clownshoes? I think they are cool as the other side of the pillow....

dcoombs
 
Only Gary Bettman, as the NHL commish, has tried harder to kill off a sport. Baseball is strong enough to survive the disaster that is named Bud Selig.
 
This reminds me of the Spider-Man 2 fiasco a couple summers ago (except this is probably a few notches up on the stupidity factor). I would suspect that most people would think of this as a ridiculously stupid idea - and I agree that MLB will probably (hopefully!) back down on this one.
 
I think all of the FBL sites contract with Stats, Inc. (or some other entity) for a data feed, and that's the same thing newspapers do. MLB could concievably disallow that feed. Then it would be up to each site to contract with each team for the stats from the official scorer, and I can't see MLB teams not toeing the Beelzebud line. The only alternative would be to generate your own stats. It could be done, but it would be damn difficult, and it wouldn't be "MLB official."

Given the boneheads in charge of the sport, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see them restrict the data feed to their preferred licensees. This, by the way, would be ANOTHER consequence of their protected monopoly status.
 
I had forgotten about that ridiculous Spiderman2 thing.

Which, of course, MLB claimed it was doing so it could market itself to younger fans.
 
I was trying to forget about that whole Spiderman 2 stuff too.... :)
 
This is an old thread but I recently read a some articles detailing the whole CDM vs MLBAM lawsuit, as well as case law and the difference between copyright and publicity rights as it relates to fantasy sports. It talks about what the FSTA reaction was and also provides some solutions to fantasy companies to protect themselves.

Maybe some of you would be interested.
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