MLB Grants Yahoo Exclusive Ad Sales Rights to Live Baseball Video

It may seem like America’s Pastime is watching Yahoo struggle to ward off Microsoft, but a new live game distribution and ad deal with MLB means Yahoo at least is thinking about baseball.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media has signed a deal giving Yahoo rights to feature subscription-based live games in a co-branded video player, as well as the ability to sell video ads in that content through the 2010 season. Yahoo intends to handle ad management for the relationship through its AMP platform, currently in development.

In perhaps the most significant component of the agreement, Yahoo will be the exclusive seller of video ads for MLB.TV in 2009 and 2010. All pre-, mid-, and post-roll video ads, including overlay and clickable video units seen in some 2,400 live streaming games each year on MLB.TV and Yahoo, will be sold by the Sunnyvale firm.

Yahoo and MLB will share video ad selling responsibilities for the 2008 season, which started March 31. “We’re really just working together,” said Yahoo Sports GM Jimmy Pitaro of the ad sales operation. “Major League Baseball will designate a single point of contact to coordinate sales efforts,” he continued.

From TV sponsorships to branded online singing contests, MLB and its .com unit have little problem attracting advertisers. The new deal gives Yahoo an automatic in with them, especially MLB’s television advertisers, many of which make cross-media buys on MLB properties. “Reaching out to the league sponsors will probably be a starting point for us,” said Pitaro. “We have a huge head start in that they’re already sponsors.”

The relationship will add heft to the video ad inventory flowing through Yahoo’s up-and-coming ad management platform. In its effort to become a large ad network player, Yahoo is testing its AMP ad selling and campaign management system with its newspaper publisher partners. Ads sold into MLB.TV content will run through that system eventually, according to Yahoo. The company announced some details of the platform earlier this week, perhaps to project strength in the face of a looming takeover threat by Microsoft.

In addition to running ads from typical sports sponsors like automakers, beverage purveyors and apparel brands, Yahoo anticipates feeding demographically or behaviorally targeted ads into the baseball streams. “We will be able to extend our targeting capabilities where the advertiser might not be looking for this type of content itself, but they’re looking for this audience,” said Todd Teresi, SVP of Yahoo Publisher Network.

The Yahoo baseball content audience is what one would expect it to be, more than 70 percent male with a median age of 36, according to Pitaro. Males between ages 18 and 34 view the most video on the site.

“All the research we’ve done has told us the number one piece of content our users are looking for is live video,” said Pitaro. Yahoo Sports also runs live pay-per-view Ultimate Fighting Championship events, in addition to live NFL games outside the U.S. and live NHL and golf games.

According to Pitaro, Yahoo sees the MLB relationship as one that satisfies its goal of opening its network to outside technologies. Though accessible via Yahoo, MLB.TV is controlled by MLB.com.

The co-branded live baseball game player can be seen on Yahoo Sports, and may be accessible elsewhere on the site in the future. As with live games streamed on the MLB.TV site, viewers can only watch out-of-market games. Thus, a New York Mets fan living in Manhattan can’t view a live home game online, but she could watch a Colorado Rockies game played at Coors Field. Site visitors in 11 countries will have access to MLB.TV on Yahoo.

Yahoo also will distribute MLB.com’s FastCast game highlight clips in addition to other MLB.com content. The site already has rights to player names, images, stats and video highlights for its fantasy baseball content. Mobile content rights are not included in the deal.

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