Major League Baseball's Obsession With Cashing In On Everything Has Harmed The Game's Popularity Online

from the let-it-go... dept

I don't often mention it here, because it's way off-topic, but I'm a bit obsessed with baseball -- and only rarely does that cross over into a Techdirt related topic, such as when MLB tried to claim it owned stats (spoiler alert: it does not). Anyway, a month or two ago I came across a wonderful Twitter feed called @Jomboy_ who mostly tweets out (funny and clever) stuff about the NY Yankees, but also every day or so puts out really amazing and hilarious "breakdown" videos about events throughout baseball. These vignettes are usually less than two minutes long, and frequently feature what appear to be his amazingly accurate lip-reading skills (not to mention capturing little things happening in the background) and also a bit of well-placed profanity (if you happen to be listening in a workplace that might not appreciate that). I usually watch them on Twitter, but for embedding purposes, it's easier to use YouTube (where he also posts the videos), so I'll use some examples from there (and intersperse a few, because if you like baseball, they're wonderful). Here's one of his "breakdowns" of the only "intentional balk" I've ever seen:

I even randomly tweeted out that any baseball fans should check out his account just last week. And, of course, nothing in all of that makes this a Techdirt story. But I was somewhat amazed, just a day after I tweeted about Jomboy, to see an article at Fangraphs that is (1) all about Jomboy (whose real name is apparently Jimmy O'Brien) but, more importantly (2) totally relevant to Techdirt. Basically, it tells the story of how Major League Baseball's obsessive desire to own and control everything (see earlier note about its silly, years-long failed battle to own freaking stats) is contributing to baseball's continuing failure to be of any interest at all to a younger generation -- in part because baseball content rarely has shown up on social media.

This might sound a bit surprising to folks who do follow the sports business market. From the outside, many people have pointed out that Major League Baseball was really the first major sports league to embrace the internet -- and it did so successfully from a business standpoint. It built out MLB Advanced Media, which was such a good platform that other leagues even started using it, leading to it being called BAMTech, and Disney buying a majority share in 2017 for a big chunk of change. And, to be clear, MLB does a really good job with its streaming platform, that seems to work really well. But with that platform came way too much control -- and it has leveraged that to shut down things happening outside of its control. And that includes a lot of fan stuff.

“Because they have such a successful system within, they neglected every other social media because they have their own platform,” says O’Brien. “You couldn’t find a single MLB highlight on YouTube. There’s kids now that grew up not seeing baseball highlights for 10 years because they would have to go to MLB.com. Did you ever try to embed an MLB video back in the day? Or share it with a friend? It was, like, impossible.”

MLB has (thankfully) loosened the rules a bit over the past couple years, but only if you don't make any money:

Until 2017, YouTube content like Jomboy’s would be unthinkable. And while rules are far more relaxed in 2019, there’s still no way baseball channels can monetize directly through the platform. MLB will claim and remove their videos, and after an arduous appeal process, the videos will either remain off the site or re-emerge days later with revenue split between the creator and MLB.

And of course, that means that copyright is stepping in and stopping fans from promoting the freaking game:

“MLBAM doesn’t make things too easy for us,” says Joseph Solano, another Yankees content creator who has found a following on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube under the name Joezmcfly. “All the time, they will put up copyright claims on my videos. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather not monetize, just so that I can get the content out there for the people.”

And you certainly understand the instinct. Control and copyright are direct. "I control it, I monetize it." But one of the points we've tried to make going back two decades at this point, is that sometimes it helps to look at the bigger picture -- and often a big part of that bigger pictures is that giving up a little short term control leads to better long-term outcomes.

As the article notes, the other sports, while perhaps not controlling everything, have realized that letting fans actually do this kind of thing attracts more fans and more interest to the overall game. And yet, Jimmy and the others profiled in the article feel like it's an effort to promote baseball for free. That's nuts.

Of course, this is nothing new. It actually goes back decades. People today are amazed to learn this, but it used to be considered perfectly fine for fans or third parties to make merchandise with team logos and such. But in a series of lawsuits starting in the 1960s through the 1980s, sports leagues freaked out, and decided they wanted to license every damn use. And while that was short-term profitable for the leagues, it hurt the ability of fans to show their own support.

For years, one of the key themes around here is just that you don't have to get paid for every single use, and sometimes lessening control can lead to wider long-term benefits. Jomboy's great videos demonstrate that. Are they infringing on MLB's copyright? I'd argue they're clearly fair use (and, no, the lame "without express written consent" to make use of "accounts or descriptions of the game" is not an issue here as they are legal nonsense that is mostly meaningless) and thus, MLB shouldn't have any right to block the monetization efforts in the first place. But, in this day and age, it's just not worth making a fair use fight just to get your YouTube revenue, which is unfortunate. Now that I've discovered Jomboy, I'm hoping he continues to make these videos -- and it seems crazy that he has to hope that Major League Baseball will "let" him promote their sport in a fun, enjoyable way.

Filed Under: baseball, control, culture, fair use, fans, jomboy
Companies: major league baseball


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:34pm

    Fandom

    Can you imagine what Star Wars fandom would have been like if there were no magazines like Starlog? The only place you could talk about the movie would have the official Lucas magazine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Fandom

      Nowhere near the cultural penetration it has today, I can tell you that much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:53pm

      Re: Fandom

      As a huge Star Wars fan/geek/nerd, this is a terrifying thought.

      The number of fan sites I've discovered and interacted with over the years is crazy, and each one has had something different of interest or facts of information to offer. Costuming sites, roleplay sites, Wookieepedia (the ultimate repository of Star Wars knowledge and information), video game mods, etc.... I can't imagine Star Wars fandom ever having developed the way it did without all that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 2:15pm

    Here's a frightening thought.

    Imagine if videogame companies applied this mindset to, say, Twitch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 10:37pm

      'We can pay for an ad, or let others do it for free...'

      Thankfully most of them so far seem to be smart enough to realize that people playing their game and showing it to others is free advertising, and as such not worth cracking down on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glen, 26 Jun 2019 @ 2:35pm

    Those are some awesome videos. Gives you some good insight on certain plays.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 26 Jun 2019 @ 3:56pm

    On the plus side

    Locking down EVERYTHING helps to stop fans who embarrass themselves (and their families for generations to come), by getting tattoos proclaiming that their favorite team (who don't even make the finals) are ALREADY this year's (not-yet held) pennant winners.

    KNOW REGERTS

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hausjam, 26 Jun 2019 @ 5:18pm

    Cry all you want

    YouTube is just as bad as everywhere else. YouTube used to be fun. Now it’s all about monetization. 4 commercials in a 15 minute vlog post? No thanks. If I see a single yellow dot anywhere in the timeline, I cancel and watch something else.

    And you wanna cry because MLB wants a piece of your action? Lame. You don’t get both ways.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 7:23pm

      Re: Cry all you want

      And you wanna cry because MLB wants a piece of your action? Lame. You don’t get both ways.

      You should be crying because you didn't read the article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sam Hyatt, 27 Jun 2019 @ 5:25am

      Re: Cry all you want

      I grew up using YouTube as a nerdy kid before it got bought by Google.
      I can tell you that the platform was at its best when people made things that could be enjoyed as pieces in their own right.
      Whether it was animation, machinima, recording something interesting, or amateur films, there was an imperative to simply express yourself and sitting in front of a camera theorizing about stuff or rattling off news wouldn't get you anywhere.
      It's becoming just another outlet for professional production, the exact opposite of what it was made to do.
      I think YouTube as an idea died the moment engagement and consumption became more of a focus than creation

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2019 @ 2:16pm

        ... what

        Whether it was animation, machinima, recording something interesting, or amateur films, there was an imperative to simply express yourself and sitting in front of a camera theorizing about stuff or rattling off news wouldn't get you anywhere.

        It's becoming just another outlet for professional production, the exact opposite of what it was made to do.

        Barring videos taken down by overzealous lawyers and companies those 'amateur' people can still use the platform just fine, so no idea what the problem is unless you're trying to say it's harder to find certain stuff(a problem with any collection that grows large enough).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2019 @ 2:54pm

          Re: ... what

          Not to mention all of those things can still be found on there and make up a good chunk of the content.

          Heck, some of those people who started off doing those things are still doing those things except now they have a massive audience and are making crap tons of money doing it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2019 @ 8:43am

      4 commercials in a 15 minute vlog post?

      .....You do realize there is a simple, free, and easy way to not have any commercials on Youtube, right? I haven't seen a single "commercial" in years and I watch Youtube all the time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 6:56pm

    Here's a proposal. If a baseball stadium is paid for by taxpayer money (seems virtually all are) then all video made inside that stadium becomes public domain. Would that be reasonable?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anon, 27 Jun 2019 @ 2:17am

    Seems like if the team is playing in a publicly funded stadium, then that teams output should be public. Have also noticed that most of these stadiums are pretty empty, and they only show the stands when they have home run hits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    webster (profile), 27 Jun 2019 @ 4:49am

    1984

    I coached my 3 kids in T-Ball in Washington, DC. When my youngest child joined the team, we had to change uniforms and the name. After decades with the name "Mudballs," the local Little League mandated Major League names and gave us the "Dodgers." They had made a deal with this devil. I was tempted to organize a rebellion. So much for historical, local teams. "Mudballs" remains my favorite t-shirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2019 @ 5:22am

    IF any sport does not have clips on youtube by various streamers and also
    allows short videos on instragram, facebook etc it may as well not exist.
    To bring in young fans you need to go where they go ,
    to social media ,
    youtube, etc
    Video game companys get this ,they allow anyone to post clips or full
    playthroughs on youtube ,
    young people wont buy a game if theres no youtube video,s of gameplay .
    Minecraft is a billion dollar franchise because it had so many
    fans putting 1000, sof videos on youtube .
    How to play the game, making funny storys out of things that might happen in the game.
    imagine having a platform with billion,s of users ,where you can get free
    promotion,
    There s no hit song that does not have a video on youtube.
    Yes its nice to have full control,
    but its foolish in the long run,
    your older fans will pass on,
    in 20-30 years time there will be no one going to baseball game s
    if you do not make new fans .
    Having a streaming service or video clips on mlb.com is not effective
    if you just ignore youtube or send dmca notices to people who
    upload funny baseball videos .
    Game companys pay big streamers to play their game as a form of
    promotion on youtube or twitch.
    Trying to get revenue from every video or control all social media
    is short term thinking which just annoys potential fans of the sport.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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