April 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Major League Baseball’s e-commerce site hits a home run

Although MLB.com/Shop is still not a major league retailer, the reviving popularity of baseball drove Major League Baseball’s online merchandise to a stellar year last year, up 41% to $71 million from $51 million the year before.

Although MLB.com/Shop is still not a major league retailer, the reviving popularity of baseball drove Major League Baseball’s online merchandise to a stellar year last year, up 41% to $71 million from $51 million the year before.

MLB.com/Shop is benefiting in large measure from the popularity of Major League Baseball and the league’s web efforts: It is 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 sells live video webcasts for roughly half of regular-season games, depending on local-market blackout restrictions. MLB.com had over 500,000 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 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 playoff games achieve a sales conversion rate of about 20%. “We had a very healthy 2004,” says Noah Garden, senior vice president of e-commerce.

This year, 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. “We set some web traffic records last year and that’s helping us expand in a variety of areas this year,” Garden says.

MLB.com is also using a new CRM system from SAS to analyze traffic and determine what customers want from the site. The system replaces multiple information and interactive marketing databases, including past site search data. The CRM system upgrade will tie together for the first time all disparate data and CRM platforms.

The project allows MLB.com/Shop to more thoroughly analyze site search data from millions of baseball fans who click on MLB.com to watch web broadcasts, read content about professional baseball, gather and compare player statistics and shop. “Now that we are bringing the data all together in one location, we can make faster decisions on online advertising such as offering shopping specials while fans are watching a playoff web broadcast,” Garden says.

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