Get ready for "Survivor: Major League Baseball." At least that's the way Tim Brosnan, MLB's exec VP-business, sees it. And he's got a point: As the media micro-fragment, baseball, not too long ago derided as the sport to snooze by, might very well be the next big thing.
"We're as uniquely positioned as any content owner out there," says Mr. Brosnan, who oversees all of MLB's business functions (international and domestic) in the Office of the Commissioner. "First, the core of our content is athletic competition, and that's endured forever. Second, with all the channels available, the depth of our schedule and the level and volume of our inventory make us better able than any other sport to leverage our content."
A strapping, former captain of the Georgetown varsity team, he is charged with bringing MLB into the era of modern marketing. Under his guidance, baseball's international business grew from a $2 million to a $100 million annual business-part of the reason the Yankees opened their season against the Devil Rays two weeks ago not in New York or Tampa, but in Japan. While some of his ideas are straightforward-for example, exploiting the efficiency of the World Series- others speak to a refreshingly original, even experimental, posture. Thank Mr. Brosnan for the Yankees-Devil Rays series sponsored by the copier company Ricoh.
Chances are high that baseball will see escalating marketing innovation. Mr. Brosnan calculates that, relative to other entertainment opportunities, the sport carries four advantages into the era of micro-media:
High volume. As the broadcast networks become captive to a winner-take-all syndrome, in which shows are either blockbusters or also-rans, MLB is proving to be a consistent audience driver on cable. "Frequency was always seen as a liability for baseball," he says. "Now, we know it's an advantage."
Robust interactivity. MLB hasn't ignored the fan revolution ignited by modern statistical analysis. Interactive gamesmanship naturally lies in the sport's future. "As TV and the Internet converge, we have opportunities to create instantaneous competitions," Mr. Brosnan predicts. "It's just a matter of finding the right applications."
Mass customization. With 30 teams across North America's largest markets, MLB has the ability to help marketers target. When customized ad-serving comes to digital TV, the possibilities become, almost literally, endless.
Clean slate. "With commercial effectiveness going away, the best canvas is the athlete," Mr. Brosnan argues. "So over the past five years, with Mark McGwire yelling at me, we cleaned up the signage on the players. ...I've cleaned up the screen for my major advertisers."
Baseball isn't risk-free. MLB has counted on its family-friendliness to boost it over more violent sports. But a couple more steroid scandals and that advantage will evaporate.
Yet with many incumbent brands losing their allure in an era of ever-faster product innovation and ever-finer fragmentation, a content-rich, continuous competition-one that makes news seven months a year-may prove one of marketing's best remaining draws.
Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.