Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN last night. Each night they do a news maagzine style piece on a hot topic in sports, and last night the topic was fantasy sports. Major League Baseball is claiming that they own the rights to a players name, and any fantasy league that wants to associate players names with their statistics may find the stat service fees going up to over $150 a team in the near future.

At issue, as always, is money. Major League Baseball sees a huge growth industry, topping over $150M this year, and they want a larger piece of the fantasy pie. They currently are charging licensing fees to stat services, but they want to raise prices, and are claiming that the players name is their property based on a licensing agreement Major League Baseball has with their Players Association.

But baseball is really missing the point here. Whether you like fantasy sports or hate them, you have to admit this. Having players on your fantasy team increases your interest in not only your local team but teams from around the league. It helps increase the fan base, and keeps people reading the sports section and looking at baseball (or football) stats on an ongoing basis.

If they increase the fees that they are currently charging, they will undoubtably lose fantasy players. And those former fantasy players will not be as interested in watching games as they were when their fantasy team depended on their player knowledge. Which will decrease fan interest, which means lower TV ratings, and lower TV revenues.

Baseball should know better. After the 1994 strike, baseball took a hit that they may have neevr fully recovered from, and the strides they made were largely due to two factors, the McGwire-Sosa home run chase (which we now believe was a drug-induced scam) and the rise of fantasy players. If baseball wants to make more money, they need a better salary structure and luxury tax. They need to keep their hands off the fans money, and stop discouraging fans from following their favorite players.