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When the World Cup kicks off in South Africa on June 11, many U.S. fans will be watching on Major League Baseball's Internet technology. ESPN, which will show the matches online, has contracted with the league's digital venture, MLB Advanced Media.
Launched 10 years ago to provide live baseball telecasts over the Net, MLBAM has moved beyond the national pastime. It provides streaming of CBS's March Madness and its Masters golf tournament. Joseph Inzerillo, MLBAM's senior vice-president for multimedia and distribution, says the number of people watching the Cup online may surpass 1 million. He says MLBAM can handle more than 2 million streams at a time. "MLBAM has become the technology leader in the sports industry," says former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, who advises sports leagues on media. "They have the latest and best technology, the most experienced manpower, and huge excess capacity."
The company runs out of the monitor-jammed sixth floor of a former warehouse in New York's Chelsea. On a recent day in the control room, engineers peered at a wall of screens, preparing to stream video for that night's 15 Major League Baseball games. Each game requires two feeds, one to the home team's fans, the other to the visitor's. Users pay up to $119.95 to watch a season of games. For viewers already receiving ESPN as part of their cable TV package, there will be no fee to watch Cup matches online. The subscription income will be the biggest chunk of MLBAM's more than $500 million in sales this year, says Chief Executive Officer Bob Bowman, a former ITT (ITT) president. Revenue is up 20 percent over last year, according to Bowman.
Bowman says MLBAM pays annual dividends to the league's 30 teams, who have shown no interest in either selling the company or taking it public. "They like what we've built," he says.
The bottom line: MLBAM is growing 20 percent a year as it streams video for basketball, golf, and other sports.