Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Interview with Pat O'Conner, President of Minor League Baseball Part 3

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

A few weeks ago, Bus Leagues Baseball had the privilege of sitting down with the President of Minor League Baseball, Mr. Pat O'Conner, at Minor League Baseball Headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mr. O'Conner was gracious enough to answer all of our questions and talk with us for nearly an hour.

This is Part 3 of our 4-part interview. Part 1 was Monday. Part 2 was on Tuesday, and Part 4 will be featured on Thursday.

An Interview with Pat O’Conner – President of Minor League Baseball

Bus Leagues: In your biography, it says that one of your priorities is to “deal with digital assets”. Is there a push to capitalize on the Web as a medium for Minor League Baseball, especially with the decline of the local newspaper industries? How is Minor League Baseball adapting to the change in multimedia?

O'Conner: It is critically important to our long-term success for a few reasons.

One, we cannot generate new revenue much more than we are doing now. When I talk about new revenue, I am talking about real growth, where we are capitalizing and operating at a fairly high capacity of our local markets. So the need and the desire for more revenue has to come from two ways: one, artificially from price increases in the current structure, which there is very much a ceiling for. And in this economy it is a very low ceiling. You just can’t raise ticket prices and concession prices and sponsors just can’t pay more. So if you want to have growth, you have to have what I call “real growth” and that comes from new sources.

So if you are operating within a certain capacity within your market, there are two things that we have done: one is that we are reasonably comfortable that we are not operating at maximum capacity, because we are not tapped into the diverse markets on the fringe of our mainstream within our team markets. The second is to get more of the pie. You have to make the pie bigger. So you have to expand your universe. And the internet allows you to expand your universe, to not only connect the dots between the 160 cities, but to go beyond the borders and go international and truly worldwide.

The Web is critically important for a second reason. In order to connect the dots, expand your universe, or operate outside of your current market, you have to go talk to people in ways they are currently talking. And that is digital and it is social media and it all of those wrapped up into one and it is ever changing. It is like The Blob from the old science fiction movies – it is never the same on any two days. The Web is our growth for the future, it is the communications mechanism for the current, let alone the future. There is no question about that.

So what we were able to do is to bundle the vast majority – 155 of our 160 clubs – and create, for lack of a better term, a baby BAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media). We have BIRCO, the Baseball Internet Rights Company, doing the bundling. There is a power of one in that industry. The sum of 155 pales in comparison to the one of 155. You bundle every club and add up what they can do individually, it pales in comparison to what 155 can do together. So there is that synergy and that “power of one”. That is what we have been able to capture. We are getting our feet on the ground, but it is a very complicated business to deal in and it especially difficult because it changes constantly. We have a great partner in BAM where effectively all of professional baseball is under one engine, which creates tremendous synergy and horsepower.

I think it is future. You know, people go where they want to go. You can’t force people to buy what they don’t want, and you can’t talk to people who don’t talk back. So we can’t get into a situation where we are sending out media and it is falling into a big black hole. We have to go to where people are. And that is certainly digital.

Bus Leagues: One of the things I noticed is that in recent years all the minor league teams are under the umbrella of sites, whereas in years past, teams would have their own sites.

O'Conner: Yeah, you had to Google and find the sites. And you had to know who you were looking for. Now you can Google “Minor League Baseball” and it brings you right to It is truly a full service web site. It has the reach to link into not only, but also all of our affiliations and relationships. It really has centralized the ability to go to one place and access professional baseball.

Bus Leagues: I see teams also utilizing things like Facebook and Twitter to push their information.

O'Conner: Absolutely. And that is where if you have a solid base and you have a foundation that deals with the core issues, then these fingers can go out. Let’s face it, there are clubs in our 160 who don’t have the interest, the resources, or the capabilities to do some other things. But the way we are structured, it doesn’t hold back those who do. And in fact, there will be a residual benefit for those who can’t, won’t, or don’t just by the fact that others are. They will plow the fields and it will be easier for us to come in from behind and bring all of them into the fold. So it is a “better late than never”.

That was one of the biggest challenges in forming BIRCO and bundling our rights. Of 160 clubs, we had some that were truly in the dark ages from a technological stand point to others that were on the cutting edge. And what you don’t want to do is to bring down the leaders to bring up those trailing. So we’ve kinda been able to bring the group up through BIRCO and merchandising platforms and things we’ve done to offer to them while at the same time giving them as much flexibility as possible to operate their site from a local perspective.

Bus Leagues: What are some of the guidelines you have in regards to putting local perspective to the sites?

O'Conner: Well, it is a menu and an inventory where there are certain pages. Certain pages are reserved for BAM and national spots to deal with. It is all spelled out in the agreement. It is designed to allow for enough centralized inventory to drive the collective cost but not hamper them on their local ability to generate local inventory and to value-add locally. If you are doing something with a major sponsor and you want to value-add, you can still do that.

Part 4 tommorow!