MLB Net Readies for Third Campaign - Multichannel

MLB Net Readies for Third Campaign

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About to step up to the plate with its third
full season of coverage, MLB Network continues to expand its
programming, sponsor and distribution roster as Opening
Day is set for March 31.

The channel, which
aired more than 100
contests a year ago and
figures to eclipse that
total again during the
2011 campaign, is supplementing
its original
Thursday game productions
and Saturday
pickups from regional
sports networks on
with an early-evening
contest on Fridays
and doubleheaders on
Tuesday nights.

“Most Tuesdays,
we’ll get started between
7 and 8 p.m. and then head out west after 10
p.m. We want to provide more exposure for the West
Coast teams,” said MLB Network president and CEO
Tony Petitti.

Extending its 30 Clubs in 30 Days previews from the exhibition
season, MLBN plans to showcase all of the circuit’s
squads in April with “30 Games, 30 Clubs, 30 Days,” including
its Seattle Mariners-Oakland A’s contest on April 1 and
its Thursday opener on April 8, pitting the New York Yankees
against their nemesis, the Boston
Red Sox, from Fenway Park.

MLBN, which came out of the
box on Jan. 1, 2009, as the largest
cable-network launch in history
with some 50 million homes, is
also buttressing its studio lineup,
adding 15 weekday hours, now tossing
out its first pitch at 3 p.m. with
The Rundown, beginning April 1.
Th e two-hour show, hosted by Hazel
Mae and Matt Yallof, will provide
looks at day games in progress,
batting practice, recaps of the previous
day’s action and previews of the
upcoming contests.

That will be followed, starting
April 4, by Intentional Talk, featuring
Chris Rose and Kevin Millar and guests.

“We wanted something a little different, without the panel
of analysts,” Petitti said. “This will be much more conversational,
a nice back-and-forth about the events of the day and
around the game between Chris and Kevin, who have established
a good rapport on some of our other shows.”

While the pair will be in Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., at
the outset, they will often connect from the studios in their
homes via Cisco TelePresence, an HD video collaboration
system. Intentional Talk will hand the bat to flagship MLB
Tonight at 6 p.m.

During this off season, MLBN signed 30 new affiliate pacts,
including its launch on AT&T’s U-verse TV March 11. “AT&T
U-verse is a major affiliate success for us, given its subscriber
growth and that [its parent] does a lot of business with MLB
clubs at local level,” said Petitti.

Among the channel’s other off -season launches: Service
Electric, Cincinnati Bell, Summit Broadband, Hargray Communications
and Antietam Cable TV. “Our affiliate team
has done a nice job. It’s difficult to grow in this business, but
we’ve had a nice percentage increase since MLB Network
started in 2009,” he said, noting that discussions continue
with other affiliates and Dish Network, the top 10 distribution
hole in the channel’s now 57 milion-subscriber lineup.

In the client clubhouse, Petitti, noting that the 2011 marketplace
is healthy, said MLB Network’s “return rate with advertisers
has been excellent. It shows that the network has
stickiness if they continue to be with you, and we’ve been
able to recruit new sponsors.”

To that end, the ad sales team has scored a presenting
sponsor pact with Pennzoil for its new Friday-night package
and is nearing a similar agreement for the Tuesday doubleheaders.
Chevrolet is now the three-time presenting sponsor
for Th ursday contests, while Chrysler is back in the box
for the Saturday games.