"Would it be possible that digital media could do for baseball what national TV did for football?" Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media, asked the question during the last event at the BMO eMerging Media Forum. What he wondered was whether the business could help create the kind of team parity that lucrative national TV deals has done for the NFL (hence the old cliche about 32 capitalists who vote socialist). Bowman thinks there has been more competitive balance, and that MLB.com may be one of those reasons. Having Bowman end the event was a good choice, as he was (frankly) far more lively than most of the presentations, and the ranks here began to thin after lunch. The MLBAM story is often seen as being just about its successful video service, though he touted the pro-fan ethos as being key to its success: "We broke the Willie Randolph story we ran steroids on page 1. If you pull one punch, the fans will not come."
-- Cannibalization: Bowman was adamant in his view that online streaming didn't cannibalize TV revenue "Not everyone agrees," he acknowledged though he was glad that ESPN (NYSE: DIS) and NBC streamed the Tiger Woods/Rocco Mediate final of the US Open on Monday, and saw it as a good sign. Empirically, he said: "The streaming of those games has had a salutary impact on our offline product." And he noted that rights fees for the broadcast product has gone up significantly over the last ten years.
-- The Fantasy Ruling: The courts recently ruled that fantasy sports providers had the right to provide data and names from the leagues without paying a fee. Bowman claims it's not a worry: "Our feeling is this: if it stands as it is we can live with it. The issue that we have, is this a first step towards invading privacy, copyrights, likenesses?" He doesn't expect the likes of ESPN and CBS (NYSE: CBS) to stop licensing the product, cause they'll still want to have access to various protected trademarks and licenses. As for the smaller sites that don't care about that, he says they never paid in the first place.
-- IPO?: MLBAM has the kind of revenue (running at least $450 million annually) and profits that most internet firms would drool over (it helps, of course, that it has monopoly access to a league with a monopoly on the national pasttime), so there's been talk in the past of a possible IPO. I asked Bowman this question after the event was over, and he strongly denied that the company is even thinking about this possibility, and he said the bankers have stopped calling to try. He said an MLBAM IPO was as likely as him becoming a Major League shortstop. (I'll have to remember that for the headline when I see the S-1 filing one day)
By Joseph Weisenthal