MLBAM could one day be the only sports network you need


Major League Baseball Advanced Media — MLBAM — is usually referred to as baseball’s digital arm, but it’s become far more than that. Rather than just the place that makes the At Bat app and puts baseball games and highlights online, it’s a platform in and of itself and it is increasingly serving sports and forms of entertainment other than baseball.

In addition to its baseball stuff, MLBAM runs and owns websites for other sports and entertainment ventures and handles backend infrastructure for The Blaze TV, CBS Sportsline’s March Madness on Demand service, WWE Network, WatchESPN and HBO Now. It likewise has a partnership with National Hockey League. The goal, it seems quite clear, is for MLBAM — and its stockholders, which are Major League Baseball’s owners — to be the place through which as much of your online entertainment flows as possible. And, given that most people believe the future of all entertainment to be delivered online as opposed to over the air or through your cable box, that’s a very lucrative future indeed. And MLBAM already has revenues of well over half a billion dollars a year.

Against that backdrop came some interesting comments from MLBAM CEO Bob Bowman yesterday about the future of baseball’s digital arm. It, essentially, aims to be THE online sports network:

During Recode’s Code Media conference on Thursday Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) CEO, Bob Bowman, openly discussed creating a global sports network that would live online . . . Bowman did confirm that MLBAM is preparing to bid for sports rights. Considering that they already operate video streaming capabilities for the NHL, PGA, HBO Now and March Madness, why not go the extra step and own the rights to stream in addition to running the infrastructure? What better way to create an online sports network juggernaut?

The article says there are technological limitations at the moment and that MLBAM can only deliver around 2 million concurrent streams before things become overloaded. Bowman would like to get to 10 million concurrent streams. I don’t know much about that. Some friends in the world of tech tell me that such scalability is quite doable now, but we’ll let people who know about such things argue about it.

The more significant barrier, it would seem, is not the tech but the current broadcasting deals in place. Some baseball cable deals, for example, run well into the 2020s and beyond. Broadcasters are not going to sit idly by, paying clubs billions in order to subsidize the means of their own extinction, are they? Will they not sue to block such a thing? Or will a bunch of them go bankrupt first and have their TV deals torn up? Or will some — like those who operate broadband providers — voluntarily tear up the deals and jump in with MLBAM and find a way to make money online that they can’t make on TV any longer? And what will that mean for your internet bills?

Interesting stuff. The present makes sense. The future makes sense. The path from the present to the future is insanely complicated.