Failing to spark serious interest in its Web site from either advertisers or fans, the Major League Baseball Players Association is ceding partial control of the ad sales and promotional duties for its year-old site, Bigleaguers.com, to community site Tripod and its parent, Lycos. The new-look, co-branded site is expected to make its debut this week.
Developed by Think New Ideas, New York, the site launched last July with the hopes of achieving some much-needed public relations help for professional baseball players and a new advertising revenue stream for the union. But the union lacked the funds and manpower to promote the site and subsequently failed to attract big-spending advertisers. As a result, Bigleaguers.com has languished with low traffic figures and a small pool of advertisers such as online merchants Spree.com and Netmarket.
MLBPA officials last year were optimistic that the union could leverage the site to secure sponsorship deals with technology companies--a category of advertisers it has had limited dealings with offline. No such deals have materialized, said Chris Dahl, editor of Bigleaguers.com, citing the union's lack of connections in that industry.
Now, the ad sales operation will be handled by Tripod's 60 sales representatives, said Scott Walker, vice president of marketing at Tripod. Tripod currently charges between $40 and $50 per thousand impressions. But Dahl, a former Associated Press sports writer and the union's only employee who works on the site full time, believes the MLBPA's online sponsorship fortunes will turn around with the help of Tripod and Lycos. "Certainly, our focus in the first year was to build on the content and get a handle on this new toy we have here," Dahl said. "Now we're ready to take step two ... We recognize Tripod has the ability far beyond ours to generate A: traffic and B: ad sales."
As part of the deal, Williamstown, Mass.-based Tripod will assist the union and Think with building content, including baseball-themed communities, plus promotion and ad sales. Tripod and Lycos will split all advertising sales revenues 50/50, Dahl said. Ad rep firm, 24/7 Media, New York, had handled ad sales duties until last week.
The deal, which runs through opening day of the 1999 baseball season, is based purely on revenue-sharing with no money changing hands upfront, Walker said. The MLBPA plans to expand merchandise sales on the site; Tripod won't be involved though, Dahl said.
Dahl noted a top concern for the MLBPA was getting the more than 700 active players to make regular updates to their homepages. Signs of just how daunting a task it is keeping the site current were evident last week. Pros Pete Harnisch and Gary Sheffield, each of whom have changed teams in the past year, were pictured on the site's front page wearing their former teams' uniforms.