Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 – No. 24: Disney purchases majority stake in BAMTech

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Back in 2000, Major League Baseball created a joint venture between the leagues and its 30 owners called Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). Each owner contributed about a million bucks a year over a four year period to create the thing, which is less than the going rate for your team’s second worst relief pitcher. By 2017 that modest investment has now made each owner in excess of $100 million. Possibly much more.

MLBAM was simple at first. It was a vehicle for baseball teams to have a central authority managing team websites, to create an overall digital presence for the game and to sell tickets and merch. Over time it evolved into a streaming service for  baseball games in the form of the subscription product, proved to be successful in its own right, but it proved to be more successful as a proof-of-concept for streaming services in general. The technology was great, other people liked it and soon baseball — which has never been all that visionary an enterprise — realized it had something pretty big on its hands.

In 2015, Major League Baseball spun off the streaming technology into a separate company called BAMTech. It would keep control of the baseball properties using the platform under the authority of MLBAM, but BAMTech and its streaming product would be open to anyone who wanted to pay for its use. BAMTech already had an agreement with the NHL for streaming hockey games, but soon other content providers came calling, which put even more money into the pockets of baseball owners who still held the controlling interest in the company.

In August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired a 33% stake in BAMTech for $1 billion, which gave about $33 million to each baseball owner. At the time Disney also purchased an option to acquire a majority stake in the future. They waited about a year.

Back in August, Disney announced that it had agreed to purchase a majority stake in BAMTech, putting its ownership share at 75%. The price for the new shares exceeded $1.5 billion. While there is a bit of murkiness to the numbers, sources familiar with the deal told NBC Sports earlier this month that each owner will net about $68 million, payable in the early part of 2018. Between that and last year’s round, baseball owners will have realized in excess of $100 million, all for a pocket change investment made by them or their predecessors over a decade ago.

The owners have maintained about a 15% stake in BAMTech, and that’ll make them even more over time. After all Disney, as is its wont, will surely monetize the living hell out of BAMTech. It announced in August that it is launching its own streaming service, for sports with ESPN-branding on top of the BAMTech platform, and for Disney content — including Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars content — which will set them up as a rival for Netflix and Amazon. The enterprise will make billions. Owners may very well make more money off of it than they do on their baseball teams, at least in terms of straight profits on revenue go.

Good for them. Just remember that the next time your favorite team’s owner says he doesn’t have the money to pay your favorite player.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.