Baseball Fans to Pay for Online Audiocasts of Games

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Baseball fans now will have to pay to hear games on the Internet following a $20 million deal reached yesterday between Major League Baseball and RealNetworks Inc.


Under the three-year deal, the Internet media company will provide fans with play-by-play audio, video highlights and other services on the Web for a $9.95 yearly subscription fee.


The two companies said the agreement represents the largest Internet deal yet in professional sports.


The service is being targeted at displaced fans who are trying to keep tabs on their teams. MLB.com CEO Bob Bowman told The New York Times that enthusiasts have already shown their willingness to pay for content based on the success of pay-per-view and satellite sports feeds.


"We want to move toward treating Internet content the way we treat TV content," he said. "Displaced-fan TV content is not free."


Streaming play-by-play has been available for free in recent years. It will be available April 1, opening day, through subscriptions to either company's Web site.


MLB and RealNetworks plan to offer video highlights of each game and on-demand archives of each pitch of every game by May 1. These features will be available through real.com and mlb.com.


"Our goal is to create a product that has synchronized stats, live play-by-play animation and access to over 5,000 home and away broadcasts and foreign-language feeds," Bowman said.


To entice fans to sign up, MLB will essentially return the subscription fee with a $10 gift certificate to its online store.


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