Say It Ain't So, MLB
MLB's Internet media arm, later joined by the pro-baseball players' union, had claimed that C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing--a Missouri company that sells fantasy sports products via the Web, e-mail, regular mail, and phone--was using baseball players' names and statistics without a license, thereby violating the players' rights to publicity under state intellectual property laws.
The second article, concerned a matter even more compelling than fantasy baseball: little league uniforms.
MLB is suing uniform vendors who use names such as the Phillies or Braves without paying licensing fees, prompting one Chicago Little League team to swap uniforms for a generic Bulldogs nickname this year. This means that if Little Leaguers want to use official names and logos, they would have to buy uniforms through Majestic Athletics, the exclusive apparel licensee of the MLB. This, of course, is more expensive than using other vendors.
After reading these two articles, I can't decide whether MLB is colossally greedy, stupid or both. I understand trying to maximize the value of your product, but not at the expense of your customers. In this case, it's not just your customers, its your best customers. Of all the fans, fantasy baseball players are the most passionate about the sport. They live and breathe baseball. MLB should be spending its time and resources figuring out how to create more fantasy baseball players - not nit picking over which site hosts the games.
And as for the little league suit, wow. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting: "Guys, you know what, there are little league teams out there not using the official MLB uniform vendor - you know the one the we make only a very small % of our revenue from? Yeah, I figure we can grow that business by suing, get this, little league. Brilliant, no? It'll have the double whammy of both alienating our future fans and getting us some awful PR." Nice work.
Now, I know what your thinking: who cares? MLB is a monopoly, no one can compete anyway. Why not try to wring every buck out that we can? Customer loyalty only matters if your customers have options.
Fair enough, that's probably true today. But I got a feeling they'll be singing a different tune tomorrow. Right now, MLB makes a lot of its living off of its TV deals - but TV viewership is in a free fall. As TV loses its built in audience, it also loses its built in revenue. And this is gonna be bad news for expensive content providers like MLB. They may actually be forced to win audiences over on their own in the future. Web distribution, pay per view cable deals, etc., which are all a la carte pricing, may end up being the heart of their business. And at that point, alienating fans through BS like this will matter.
Think about it, if TV implodes (like newspapers did) and MLB is making its bones by direct selling of $20/month cable packages, do you think that they will do things to discourage anyone form playing fantasy baseball? Or prevent anyone from giving them the free advertising that little league team names do? Guessing not. And also guessing that the club owners and other folks that work there then will be cursing their predecessors who pulled this crap in past and made their jobs a lot harder.