A gratuitous post about baseball – and what it means for paid content

Minnesota Twins logo, 1961My favorite ballclub opens their brand-new stadium today, so forgive me if I seem a bit preoccupied.

Watching all the hoopla – on multiple media platforms at once – gives us all another lesson on the folly of the paid-content argument from some traditionalists.

We’re baseball freaks in this household. I’ve been a fan of the Minnesota Twins since long before the last time they played a home game outdoors. My wife jokes that she was born within sight of Shea Stadium. Our first date included a raucous discussion of which team had denuded their farm system more badly through stupid trades. (Hint: It was the Mets.)  The poor kids didn’t have a choice.

So as the Twins open Target Field today, I’m watching via the MLB Extra Innings package on Verizon FiOS ($179 this year). If I have to run to get one of the kids, I’ll be able to keep an ear on things via Sirius-XM Radio ($12 a month, and baseball is the only reason I keep satellite radio). As backup (or while traveling), I can tap the MLB.TV feed.

As I write this, it’s three hours before the game, and thousands of fellow Minnesotans are gathered outside the stadium. (How do I know? Webcams.)  After the Twins thump the BoSox today (crossed fingers), I’ll read every word I can find, especially on the Star-Tribune’s excellent blogs by LaVelle E. Neal and Joe Christensen. I gleefully wallow in the modern media soup.

Oh – and my wife sprung for a 20-game season ticket package this year for me. Yes, I live 1,250 miles away. Your point?

What’s hard to remember is this sort of overload wasn’t always so. (I had an extended conversation many years ago with a presidential candidate right after my team beat his in the World Series. We swapped stories about the insane lengths we went to – driving to the top of hills outside town! – to pull in games on AM radio skips.)

Not so many years ago that only a handful of each team’s games were televised – maybe 50 a year, almost all of them away games. The troglodyte owners thought that allowing people to watch every game would “devalue the product” and lead inexorably to declining attendance.

They made a couple of basic mistakes: First, they assumed that they were primarily in the business of selling tickets to games – not making money through multiple channels. Second, they thought that watching a game on TV was a perfect substitute for the experience of sitting in the ballpark.

Over the past 25 years or so – thanks in no small part to the phenomenal cable-TV success of some truly awful Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves teams – baseball owners figured it out. Make money by selling TV rights to every game. Split the games up between over-the-air and cable broadcasters. Offer those feeds through any possible medium (even video on mobile devices this year).

Do all that right, and it won’t harm attendance – it’ll whet appetites.

(Yes, one result of this is seemingly absurd contracts. But at least Mauer didn’t sign with the Godless Empire.)

Here’s what this has to do with the eternal (and infernal) paid-content debate: Newspaper owners who stubbornly insist that people will pay for news on the web because, well, they should are behaving like baseball owners of old.

The results speak for themselves.

Instead of fighting to wall off the web, innovate on other platforms – not just the iPad, though that’s a start. Figure out what consumers want in different circumstances, then how to use technology to deliver that information. They won’t always pay for it – but they will sometimes, and there’s an ad model out there for just about every transmission vehicle.

Give your audience what they want – when, where and how they want it. For God’s sake – Bud Selig doesn’t even do e-mail, yet even he was smart enough to figure that out.

(OK, Bob DuPuy figured it out. But Bud let him.)

1 comment so far ↓

#1 No magic bullets will save the news industry - but a hail of bullets just might | Tom Davidson on 05.12.10 at 10:59 am

[…] As part of the prep work, I’ve re-read a hefty stack of posts about emerging revenue models for news – advertising-supported for-profits, L3Cs, non-profit structures, even the wishful-thinking paid-content model. […]

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