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Sports leagues and Internet video

Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball are not just at the opposite ends of the alphabet, but also in embracing digital media.  In this day and age, fans don’t want to be tied to watching anything, even a soccer match or baseball game, by place or time.  Baseball is one of the big three sports in the States, much like horse racing and boxing were last century, and they’re vested in the old model of viewing a game at a certain place and time, and in blacking out games outside of different regions.  Is it any wonder then that MLB considers baseball fans criminals if they use a slingbox to watch games?  Can I emphasize anymore that these are fans of the sport?

MLB’s recent comments that Slingbox owners streaming home games when traveling is illegal has raised quite a stir over the last few days. MLB’s argument is that Slingbox allows consumers to circumvent geographical boundaries written in to broadcast deals.

MLB’s slingbox rant is due to fears that slingbox will cannibalize demand for they’re channel on youtube.  Major League Soccer wants to expose the league and sport to a wider audience, and understands that new models for reaching people are available on the Internet.  It’s become the third sports league to partner with Youtube.

MLS is hoping to garner as much support for its new channel. MLS will have a sponsored channel on YouTube, where updated clips will be played, with alerts sent out to subscribers.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the English Premier League has decided to sue Youtube for hosting user-posted videos and clips form EPL matches.  You have to wonder how much damage could be done to a league who’s next television deal is worth reportedly 513 million dollars.

The lawsuit charges that YouTube deliberately encourages massive copyright infringement on its Web site to generate public attention and boost traffic. This has resulted in the loss of valuable content, the complaint said.

Sports eagues would do well to learn from the clumsy attempts by the music industry’s goons at the RIAA to use legal threats against their own customers.  Especially now that major music publishers might be embracing DRM-free (that’s not crippled files in layman’s terms) music distribution.  I think the leagues that learn to adapt to new distribution models, and not rely primarily on massive television rights deals, can really thrive online.