October 10, 2002, 12:00 AM

MLB.com hits a home run with retail merchandise sales

Drawn by the content, baseball fans stay to shop. E-commerce sales and auctions of licensed merchandise and collectibles, along with online ticket sales, currently top revenue from subscriptions and ad sales at Major League Baseball`s web site.

Sales of licensed merchandise are now a key driver of revenue on MLB.com, the content-focused web site of Major League Baseball. Not counting the season’s estimated $9.5 million in online ticket sales, MLB.com will rack up an estimated $25 million this year in sales and auctions of licensed merchandise and collectibles.

The web site, owned in equal shares by the 30 Major League Baseball teams, draws 2 million visitors a day with extensive content on League play and personalities plus up-to-the minute stats. “Our success on the Internet is being able to deliver what the fans want and monetize the traffic we already have,” Noah Garden, senior vice president of MLB Advance Media, tells Internet Retailer. “On the site, e-commerce is a soft sell. It doesn’t hit you over the head. We provide all this free content in an effort to get fans closer to the game--and oh, by the way, we also have commerce.”

Commerce does take a back seat to content on the site, but the soft sell is a successful one. Garden says e-commerce sales including online ticket sales are the top source of revenue on MLB.com, one leg of a three-part web strategy that also includes sales of subscriptions that stream same-day audio feeds of the games over the Internet as well as live webcasts of playoff and Series games outside the U.S., plus advertiser sponsorships.

MLB.com links to the individual web sites of each team, all of which have been given a similar look and feel through infrastructure provider Digital River Inc. Recently, Digital River also has taken over fulfillment duties. Centralizing the rights to official MLB-licensed merchandise in this way has allowed MLB Advance Media to round up a large yet fragmented market of dislocated team partisans, Garden says.

Analyzing visitor traffic confirmed the company’s earlier hunch that displaced fans would be its biggest audience. “When you look at who’s buying and from what parts of the country, it’s rare that the person from St. Louis links to the St. Louis site to buy a cap, for example. It’s much more likely that St. Louis fans living in another part of the country come to our site because they can’t find the St. Louis caps in their local stores,” Garden says. “This was something we thought had been happening for a long time as we were setting up the site.”


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