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Major League Baseball's Attitude Towards Bloggers

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One of the more or less useful tools that is set up for us SBNation bloggers is an email message board, and as people already predisposed to putting their thoughts down in pixels, we make spirited and frequent use of it.

There always seems to be two or three threads going simultaneously, in which my hundred blogging brothers express opinions on the respective sports we cover, our blogging compatriots, our blogging competition, the dreaded Mainstream Media--who may or may not have stolen anything from the blogosphere that day-- and much, much else.

Although I can't pretend to understand some of the stuff posted by the college football bloggers, this is all pretty essential stuff, the cyber-equivalent of those Indians who in days of yore put their ears to the railroad tracks in an effort to hear what's coming.

In fact, when Thomas joined up, the President of the company tried to tell me that as second fiddle or whatever, "Stros Bro" wouldn't be privy to the email group, and I fought hard to have Thomas included.  I felt then, and feel now, that there's too much of consequence discussed there for anyone involved at the production level to miss.

So, with my typically cumbersome introduction out of the way, I'd like to share an interesting thread that's gone down over the last 24 on the boards.  It began when Mat Gleason, who blogs as "Rev Halofan" at the Halos Heaven site,  told the following story:

Cupie, a friend who helps with Halos Heaven, does interviews, etc., he has been trying to nail down an interview with some Angels players or team personnel.

He was told today by Angels assistant media relations man Larry Babcock that MLB Advanced Media has instructed his office (and the office of other teams) to have NO contact or relations with non-accredited internet sites - especially bloggers.

Cupie did not debate him, and maybe this was just the brush off, but Babcock asured us that "they all read your site here" but that his hands were tied.

To that, Tyler from Athletics Nation replied with the following:

Funny.  I just so happened to go to a luncheon today with Bud Selig as the featured speaker.  . . . Selig was rambling on and on about how MLB isn't scared of change and has embraced change more than any other league.  Although he did acknowledge that MLB is in essence, a social institution and by their very nature social institutions are resistant to change.  Ya think?

Whether or not they decide to officially give us a stamp of approval, we're worming our way in.  They can either embrace it and do it the proper way or stick their heads in the sand like they seem intent on doing.

. . . [F]rom what we've heard . . . they're very afraid of bloggers.

Anyway, this very well could be a PR person using it as an excuse, [but] there is probably some truth to it.

And upstream from Tyler's contribution, Mat wrote that

They fear bloggers because they cannot control bloggers as they do the mainstream press with teh retribution of reducing advertising.

They fear bloggers because they see us as competing with MLBAM for internet eyeballs.

They fear bloggers because they want the certainty that comes with cliche jock interviews instead of the unceratinty that comes with a fan shouting enough is enough about team personell.

They fear bloggers because they want to control the context in which their product is discussed and a popular blogger could force them to be on damage control much more often than what slides with the mainstream press.

MLB = scaredy cats.

While the substance of Mat's first email, and Tyler's reply, seemed rock solid, something about Mat's second email bugged me.  Can't say why, either.  It's not a persecution complex, not exactly, and it's not self-important chest-pumping . . . not all of it, anyhow.

Whatever, I was moved to pen the following:

I think it's rather melodramatic to say that MLB fears the blogosphere.  MLB is a huge corporation, and I think their response can be seen best in the light of the things that drive the behavior of all large corporations:  1) Money, 2) A desire to protect and defend their brand.

If MLB feared the concept of the blogging platform, why then would they have set up the MLBlogs, where independent blogging actually takes place on their very own website?

Most likely they have no issue with the idea of blogging--they just want to see if they can't make money off it.  This is no different from the process that takes place when they decide for example to run a product tie in with Iron Maiden on their site.  They don't fear--or even understand-- Iron Maiden, but they're willing to see if they can turn a profit from them.

So they promote their own pay-for-the-privilege brand, and are sure not to unduly aid the competition.  As long as you remember that they are a large corporation, their actions are not even unreasonable.

Despite the fact that MLB has shown their technological and cyber-acumen with what certainly has to be called the most dexterous internet presence of any of the major four sports, I think there is something to be said for the idea that MLB still isn't quite sure how to treat blogs.  Again, not because they're evil or "fear" anything, but simply because they're not sure how to quantify the whole thing.  For over 100 years, they've been giving out press and media privileges to the media outlets with the cash muscle to define a presence.  Again, in the effort to define and protect and defend their brand, they have selectively limited access.

If they now are not sure to handle a web presence that started up because some guy--or maybe two--made an account at Blogspot, well, I can understand that.  Is there a reason why they should allow access to their product to a couple of guys who are unquantifiable except for the fact that they have the limited enough web-savvy to post their thoughts on a regular basis?

On the other hand, my guess is that they are quite aware of the evolution of SBNation, and to a lesser extent, MVN, and that if their strategy is still to treat these organizations like the lone wolves they were birthed from, well, that would be a mistake. SBNation--at well over 100 sites--is becoming way too big to ignore, or to not treat with fairly.  Pretty soon, it's not going to matter what corporate strategy MLB would like to take:  they're going to have to give SBNation its props whether they like it or not.  And we'll see how they treat the lone wolves at that time.  Their SBNation strategy and their general blog strategy could very well end up being two different things.

It is very easy to criticize the mainstream media for the poor way that they have at times managed the access to the sport which they have been given, with the laziness they have shown, the shortcuts they have taken.  But is it perhaps self-important and prideful to assume that bloggers will be immune to the same temptations of schmoozing, of softball questions, of lazy coverage in general if given the same privileges?

I know that Grant [from McCovey Chronicles, and perhaps the funniest blogger I have ever read] has been quite public about his contention that he doesn't WANT media creds. Few of us are as gifted with the wit as he is, but the points he makes are worth thinking about.  I for myself WILL chase interviews and try to cultivate contacts as much as my limited people skills allow, and I look forward to this spring for just that reason, but in doing so I will be very leery of the pratfalls.

As usual, I'm not quite sure what I'm saying, but it might be that notwithstanding all the good work we are doing at SBNation, we might not be so adroit at regarding MLB with unbiased eyes.

What do you think? You might also want to check out Bleed Cubbie Blue, where Al weighs in on the vantage he took from the same email exchanges.