MLB Network Debuts Tonight and I'm Hooked

Host Hazel Mae got her start on University Radio York!

Major League Baseball‘s 24 hour television channel MLB Network made its debut tonight with a promo reel describing the service in detail, and it looks like it will be a home run.  Many home runs, and expensive too.  All the years of footage and experience presenting sports on television seems to have accumulated in this outlet, in terms of graphics, visual presentation, marketing, hosts (too many white men still) and probably even studio construction.

MLB’s Bob DuPuy said they want to appeal to “all generations of fans and to promote family values.”  I recommend that MLB includes the electronic knothole gang and makes MLB Network a free service!

MLB Network is On the Air

I tuned in shortly after 2am to find a fantastic hour long promo compilation of the greatest moments in the history of the game, focusing intially on Hall of Fame players Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, WIllie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente, then rolled into perfect games, the World Series and All Star Games.

I even saw a few baseball moments I was present for: Aaron Boone, The Griffey father/son homers, Tino Martinez‘s World Series homer and the 2002 All Star Game where Torii Hunter robbed Bonds.  I especially like the 70s footage of guys like Lou Brock, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles and others with the double knit unis and the blurrier video quality making them bleed.

Hosts/Programs

Harold Reynolds is not one of my favorites, but I was happy to see Hazel Mae swinging a bat (as well as Trenni Kusneirek — should they be pink bats?) in the promos.  It’s a lot of fun seeing this stuff in the middle of the winter, and I look forward to viewing Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game (supposedly the first airing since it was on live), but these are also highlights we have all seen a million times too, and the novelty will wear off quickly if this costs $40/month.

Financial Impact on Reaching New and Casual Fans

I hope it doesn’t cost more than $15-20 per month, because it looks like it’s going to be great.  But why isn’t it free, or the same as HBO, etc.?  Each of the programs (history, statistical breakdowns, non-highlight programs) being promoted appeals to hardcore fans, which probably can’t compete in the younger demographics. My guess is to compensate for the lack of this mainstream ad revenue, they will charge at least $25/month.  As a result, MLB will continue to miss out on younger fans.  What if there was a whole after-school audience for baseball in the spring and fall that could have a Sponge Bob/Wonderama – type program?

The promo is predicting MLB Network will be the most successful tv channel ever, starting with the largest reach of any new station ever at 50 million homes.  Seems to me they are going to charge as opposed to being successful selling ads by reaching as many people as top rated programs.  Considering the economy, this is probably a safe bet.  But most casual fans think baseball is boring on tv, compared to the other sports, and we hear kids are less and less interested in playing it (SI’s article on the African Americans the Rays drafted for example).  So I think a lower fee is key to getting these folks to watch or even care.

I used to go to Met games for $1.50 and many other parks had similar prices for the cheap seats.  Cheap is the way to get kids into it and to keep the masses involved.  Baseball is for everyone.  Bud Selig says it can be “stunningly huge,” so maybe there will be something for the kids, working class and casual fans.

Programs they are promoting already all have logos, and mock segments in these promos make it look like it’s already on the air (show business, especially tv, is awesome).  “Our National Segment Goes Full Time” is a half hour orientation, showing various features of the station:

Studio 42 is a little field where they will do the technical breakdowns.

Live look-ins for every game based on “full-time cameras based in every park.”  Hot Stove, will air on opening night (1/1) as will Don Larsen’s perfect game, supposedly in only its first airing since the original game.  I guess we’ve only ever seen the last pitch!

The MLB Network also promises full coverage of the World Baseball Classic, with reference to their fantastic web page MLB.com.  They will be collecting Euros and Yen for the station too, let’s hope for their success overseas as entertainment is America’s biggest export.

MLB Tonight – a nightly wrap up like ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.  Does that mean there will be no ESPN show?

Prime 9 – “start arguments not end them”

Baseball Seasons – greatest years in the history of the game, such as Smoltz and Maddux talking about the Braves of the mid 90s.

Major League Baseball Productions will continue its long history with special programs on Josh Hamilton telling us that God loves ballplayers; The Story of the Negro Leagues with Willie Mays; Rickey Henderson with Bert Blyleven and we should also expect them to dig up some old This Week in Baseball editions.  In fact, if Mel Allen isn’t on the station, I’ll be disappointed.

Speaking as a hardcore fan, I purchased the online MLB.tv package for $15 per month instead of a paying a $40 monthly cable tv fee.  I’m expecting to be glued, but I’m not spending more for this than I do HBO unless MLB comes up with some great story lines.  How about vampires in Fenway Park, corruption in the construction of new parks and some wise guys being buried in the concrete (as punishment for burying a shirt for example).  Pete Rose?

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