Major League Baseball has hit another Internet home run.
Its newest client is the pro beach volleyball tour operated by Los Angeles-based AVP Inc., which hopes to spike its profile with an upgraded Web site that will feature live streaming video of all of its events.
MLB Advanced Media LP, the company established in 2002 by baseball owners to pioneer streaming Internet broadcasts of all of its games, will operate the AVP site. Dinn Mann, editor in chief of MLB.com, said he and his colleagues got the idea when they attended an AVP event at Coney Island last year.
"What we saw at the beach presented a great online opportunity," said Mann. The volleyball tour executives agreed.
"We can get significantly more exposure and have an opportunity to have our video go virally," said Leonard Armato, the tour's chief executive and commissioner.
The tour last year drew an average of more than 50,000 spectators to each of its three- to four-day events. This will be the final season on the tour for popular veteran Karch Kiraly, which should boost fan interest. While the live attendance number is expected to grow, MLB and AVP are expecting the online audience its site drew 300,000 unique users monthly last year to explode.
"We would be disappointed if their traffic didn't double from last year," said Mann. "It's a sport that translates phenomenally well to digital media."
Advanced Media has turned into a goldmine for Major League Baseball.
The company's founders quickly realized that the technology powering their Web site could be readily applied to other sports and entertainment events. It has expanded to other non-baseball initiatives and now provides the support for Major League Soccer and coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament online for CBS. It generates more than $40 million in non-baseball related revenue annually and more than $260 million in annual revenues. Investment banks looking into a potential IPO in 2004 put the value of the company at more than $2 billion.
In addition to streaming the matches, the volleyball Web site will offer online ticketing, merchandising opportunities, mobile phone applications, detailed statistics and original material.
Gersh Sports, the sports division of entertainment talent agency Gersh Agency, marked its one-year anniversary by adding a baseball division.
Joseph C. Longo and Matt Walker, formerly principals at Paragon Sports Management, were hired as division head/sports representative and vice president of business development, respectively.
While the agents' primary charge will be to represent their player in their contract negotiations with the Major League clubs, the agency will try to land deals for the athletes in other areas of entertainment, too.
"Many of the baseball players have content ideas that very likely will get some traction, including reality television, network television and clothing lines," said Hugh Dodson, chief operating officer at Gersh.
Among the players Longo and Walker will rep are Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brett Tomko, David Dellucci, Luis Ayala and former All-Stars Matt Williams and Lenny Dykstra.
Walker also represents Randy Couture, who is currently the heavyweight champion of the fast-growing Ultimate Fighting Championship. The mixed martial arts fighter has offers for movie deals, a television series, endorsements and even three offers from book publishers to tell his story.
"Randy is a business unto himself and very much typifies what we want to do with all of our athletes," Dodson said.
The mid-sized talent agency launched its sports division last March through the acquisition of boutique football agency Steve Feldman & Associates, which was run by Steve Feldman and Josh Luchs. The agency said it hopes to add a basketball, golf and sports broadcaster division. The agency has 65 talent agents and 150 employees combined in its Beverly Hills and New York offices.
The Dodgers worked hard during the off-season to retool their roster, spending millions of dollars to lure free agent outfielder Juan Pierre and re-sign first-baseman Nomar Garciaparra.
Off the field, they did even better, re-signing all of their local sponsors and even adding two for the upcoming season. Among the local firms brought on as sponsors and partners last year were L.A.'s California Pizza Kitchen Inc., City of Industry's Morehouse Foods Inc. and Snak King, and Monrovia-based Trader Joe's Co. A ticket promotion campaign with Universal Studios will be continued, as well.
The Dodgers have added a milk carton promotion with City of Industry-based Alta Dena Certified Dairy and added Islands Restaurants, which opened its first location in West Los Angeles and is headquartered in Carlsbad.
The Dodgers also revamped the stadium's parking lots in an effort to alleviate traffic issues entering and exiting the stadium. The improvements will come at a price: fans will now pay $15 to park, up from $10. That's more than it costs to watch a game from the left field bleachers or top deck. For fans that think that's too much, well, too bad. The Dodgers canceled the Friday night shuttle that ran from Union Station two years ago and there is no public transit to the stadium.
Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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