RealTime IT News

Report: MLB Mulls Taking Internet Arm Public

Buoyed by newly announced content deals with Microsoft and America Online , Major League Baseball is reportedly considering selling a minority stake of its online arm in a public offering.

The move could raise several hundred million dollars for the league, according to The New York Times, and has implications for the broader Internet content market.

MLB Advanced Media, which runs the MLB.com Web site, had received valuation estimates of more than $1 billion from bankers, unnamed sources told the newspaper.

The Times story quoted the league's COO as saying the idea of selling stock has been discussed over the last three years, but no decision has been made and no proposal brought to the 30 clubs, which own equal stakes in the operation.

In 2003, MLB.com began selling live video Webcasts for roughly half the cost of tickets to regular-season games. MLB.com had more than 500,000 paid subscribers last year, including more than 150,000 for its live video service.

A spokesman for MLB Advanced Media did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Talk of a stock offering comes on the eve of lucrative contract announcements for MLBAM. The firm is set to announce two-year deals with Microsoft and AOL. The Microsoft agreement is reported to be worth about $40 million. The AOL agreement, which includes less content, is for $9 million, a source told internetnews.com.

The tech heavyweights will package different game and highlight offerings into their premium broadband services in an effort to convince subscribers to upgrade from dial-up.

Beginning Opening Day (April 5th), MSN Premium subscribers will have access to about 250 live games every week. After the game, subscribers can opt to receive a 20-minute condensed version of the game or have a video highlight package delivered via e-mail.

The service is free to MSN Premium subscribers, who pay $9.95 per month on top of their regular broadband ISP charge for custom content and services. Non-MSN Premium customers will pay $19.95 per month.

The AOL deal will offer live audio streams and the 20-minute clip package to AOL for Broadband customers. That service runs about $14.95 per month over the regular access charge.