The film focuses primarily on Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, who, at the time the film was made (2011), were the only active knuckleballers in the major leagues. And as interesting as their stories were, I found their interactions with and the interviews of their fellow members of the knuckleball fraternity even more compelling. One scene showed a knuckleballers summit, wherein Dickey and Wakefield met up with Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro to discuss their strange craft. Another showed a struggling Dickey seeking guidance from Hough. There are brief interview segments with Jim Bouton and Wilbur Wood. I found these utterly fascinating, and they left me hungry for more.
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A look at the ten most likely places for a new MLB club
It seems that nearly every week, articles surrounding the potential relocation of the A’s and Rays surface. A panel looking into a potential San Jose relocation for the A’s has been gridlocked since 2009 (and remember, the A’s have been looking to move to San Jose for a heck of a lot longer than that). The Rays haven’t been far behind in their efforts to get out of Tropicana Field. Whether it’s the commute for fans to get to the domed stadium, the aesthetics, or the need to be closer to an urban core, it seems that Tampa Bay has been seeking a new ballpark for just as long. Relocation for these two clubs is crucial.
Another thing that comes up less frequently but has extra meaning going into 2013 is expansion. With the Astros moving into the AL West, the American League and National League will now be balanced at 15 clubs a piece. The problem is that 15 is an odd number, and as a result, interleague will become a daily affair. It’s unlikely that’s something that the league wanted, so getting to 32 clubs would take care of that matter. That would mean revenues spread thinner with two extra mouths to feed. Additionally, it’s no given that one or both wouldn’t be revenue-sharing takers, and trying to get ballparks built is no easy feat in this economy. So, 30 is a number that seems to suit the “Big Four” sports leagues in North America. The NBA has it. Ditto for the NHL. Currently, only the NFL—which has the advantage of being highly centralized (revenues are shared more evenly across the franchises) and exceptionally popular—is the exception at 32 clubs.
A look at the changing landscape of media rights deals in sports and how MLB will be affected.
There was a point not too long ago when the key revenue stream for Major League Baseball was the gate—ticket sales—with media rights through television coming in second. Recently, however, there has been an explosion in the amount of money coming into sports properties in the U.S. via media rights that is altering the landscape. Whether it’s collegiate sports conferences or the “big four” sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), the dollar amounts for national and local broadcast rights have increased. The reason? With the advent of the DVR and movies on-demand, regular programming can be watched whenever viewers like. With content being recorded, fast-forwarding past commercials has become commonplace. Live sports programming is the exception. Since fans want to see action when it happens, advertisers are placing more focus around sports than ever before.
The increases in media rights fees have happened already at the local and regional level in baseball, as exhibited by the Rangers, Angels, and Astros (and soon to be Dodgers and Padres). In the coming months, MLB itself will be cashing in, too, when the national television broadcast rights come up for renewal. Currently, the deals with FOX, TBS, and ESPN all expire at the end of 2013. According to sources, informal conversations have already begun on renewing the national television deals.
With a week's worth of shows in the can, has MLB Network's "Clubhouse Confidential" been the coming-out party sabermetricians have been hoping for?
Last Monday in this space, I interviewed Brian Kenny, host of MLB Network’s newest show, “Clubhouse Confidential,”in advance of the show’s premiere. If you haven’t heard of it yet, “Clubhouse Confidential” is a first-of-its-kind show that puts advanced statistics in the spotlight. Gone are the days of analyzing players using batting average and ERA, at least in MLBN’s 5:30 p.m. EST timeslot. With a week of shows in the books, I thought I’d take today to talk about what the show offers, what it lacks, and whether it’s worth your time to watch.
As I’m sure many people were, I was a little skeptical about how advanced analytics would translate from writing to television. While certainly possible, it needs to be done right in order to hold an audience’s attention—especially since on television, much of that audience is going to be unfamiliar with many of the stats and concepts. Kenny seems to be aware of this, since he makes sure to point out that “this isn’t math class” at the start of each show. Like he said in our interview, we’re still dealing with baseball, and it’s supposed to be fun. Intentions and reality are often two different things, but in this case, Kenny manages to it pull off, keeping the show light and fun while still engaging in intelligent analysis.
MLB Network is winning awards, but hasn't been as profitable as expected for Major League Baseball.
MLB Network has quickly become a very enigmatic business. It had the biggest launch in cable history last January—when it instantly entered almost 50 million homes—and reportedly exceeded expectations on the advertising side in its first year. It’s also been a hit critically, as it won a bunch of Emmys last month, and—in my opinion—has been a hell of a lot better than "Baseball Tonight" since day one.
Two leagues, and two massively different approaches to streaming.
In a lot of ways, MLB Advanced Media really gets it. Their marketing strategy needs a major overhaul-they're trying to be a portal in a post-portal world, and it's grossly limiting their earning potential-but their technology is best-in-breed, and they really seem to understand that sports games will eventually be broadcast and distributed by the leagues themselves, not third-party networks. And why not? Once internet-enabled televisions and super-high-speed broadband become commonplace, cable networks will start being phased out, and MLB Extra Innings will become unnecessary. MLB can just cut out the middle man and make MLB.tv its primary method of distributing baseball games-on your television, computer, or mobile phone.
Who's at the helm may determine if the first deal to drop will begin a steady flow or just a very slow drip.
After years of negotiations and infighting, local MLB games are finally coming to a PC near you. That is, as long as you live in New York, subscribe to Cablevision, and root for the Yankees. The team, via the YES Network, signed a deal with Cablevision earlier this spring to stream games online within the team's local broadcast area at some point this year, a first for any major American sports team. There will presumably be a subscription fee, and the games will likely be shown on yankees.com, yesnetwork.com, and cablevision.com.
Why and how the game's new network could do something new with its business model as well.
According to the New York Times, advertisers are falling in love with the MLB Network. Despite the bad economy and a nationwide ad slump that is killing one old media company after another, MLBN is expected to hit its sales goals for the first quarter. That's not entirely surprising; big companies swear by sports marketing, citing desirable audiences and huge ROIs. But what the Times article doesn't mention is that advertising is only a small piece of MLBN's business, accounting for about one-quarter of the network's $200 million in projected revenue. In fact, it's entirely possible that MLB Advanced Media will do twice as much in ad sales this year, which seems like a very backwards split (analog dollars are supposed to turn into digital pennies, after all).
Subscriber fees have made cable stations the new gold standard in big media. Unlike broadcast networks, cable stations are paid a fee for every subscriber that has access to that channel. With the ad market getting pummeled, media companies are increasingly relying on these sub fees for incoming cash flow. NBC Universal, for one, makes far more money from its cable stations, which include USA, Bravo, and a bunch of others that you rarely watch, than it does from its flagship NBC network. Advertising is a solid secondary business for NBCU's cable properties, but it is the primary focus only for established networks that have already maxed out their distribution potential.
Fans will soon have something new to be thankful for, the Pirates sign reality-show contestants, and news and notes from around the majors.
With Thanksgiving only a day away, there is something new for baseball fans to look forward to and potentially be thankful for. In this time when we pause to consider all of the things that we often take for granted, there is also the upcoming arrival of the MLB Network, which will launch on January 1 and be available in nearly 50 million homes, making it the largest network debut in cable television history. The network will air 24 hours a day, and include live game broadcasts, replays of classic games, and original programming.
Want to kick back and enjoy a game this fine Saturday afternoon? Your options are limited by MLB's fan-unfriendly policies.
Nothing is more maddening than feeling like you were buying into a good thing, only to be trapped in the fine print. Take being a baseball fan, for instance. You moved across the country and want to catch your former home team? Here's MLB Extra Innings for television. Traveling and can't get to a TV? Here's MLB.TV for your computer. Want to get video updates, but are away from both? OK, here are near real-time highlights sent to your mobile device. Nowadays, options are plenty if you want to see a game, but can't make it to the ballpark.