Being part of a larger web presence certainly isn’t hurting e-commerce sales at MLB.com/Shop or its efforts to diversify. Business is brisk at MLB.com/Shop as 2004 web sales hit around $71 million, up 41% from $51 million in web sales in 2003.
Sales are up in large measure because of the enormous popularity of Major League Baseball, the leader among major U.S. professional sports leagues in bringing live audio and video to the web. MLB.com offers live audio broadcasts of all games, and in 2003, began selling live video webcasts for roughly half of regular-season games, depending on local-market blackout restrictions. MLB.com had over half a million paid subscribers last year, including over 150,000 for its live video service.
During last year’s World Series when the underdog Boston Red Sox won their first championship since 1918, MLB.com, which also hosts a range of baseball-oriented content, other interactive media and statistics, hosted as many as 4 million unique visitors per day.
That traffic paid off in an e-commerce bonanza where fans grabbed up jerseys and hats and helped MLB.com/Shop on the days before and after certain play-off games achieve a sales conversion rate of about 20%. “We had a very healthy year in 2004,” says Noah Garden, senior vice president of e-commerce.
In 2005, MLB.com/Shop is expanding in a number of areas such as handling the e-commerce business of the Major League Baseball players association, certain superstars such as Barry Bonds and a network of 160 minor league teams. MLB.com/Shop is also establishing a new catalog, which MLB.com will promote in multi-channel marketing efforts such as posting an online version on the web and promoting MLB/Shop.com in the print edition.
“We set some records last year in terms of web traffic and that’s helping us expand in a variety of different areas this year,” Garden says. “Other professional sports leagues have a catalog arm and we are launching one as well."