There it goes again?
Cubbies Baseball, which describes itself as a "sportal" -- a sports portal -- for Cubs fans, had its MySpace page shut down at the request of Major League Baseball last week. More than 3,000 "friends" of the site went down the drain with the MySpace page, according to Cubbies Baseball proprietor Bryan McGraw in a blog post.
"We received no notification from MLB or MySpace," McGraw writes in an e-mail. "One minute we are working on the MySpace page exchanging comments with friends, and the next minute, our I.D. is no longer valid."
"All we can do is assume that Major League Baseball hates its fans and is dead set against appealing to anyone under the age of 50," writes Pat Lackey on the AOL Fanhouse blog. "But we knew that already."
But not so fast. Cubbies Baseball, which has an affiliate partnership deal with MLB Shop that allows it to sell official merchandise by pointing to the MLB.com store, wasn't affected. The site, which McGraw says he runs as a hobby, offers team news and message boards as well as merchandise and tickets.
The bigger problem here is MySpace, which summarily dumped the Cubbies Baseball page rather than asking McGraw to remove the offending logos and trademarks, which would have been easy for it to do and easy for him to do.
"We have an affiliate program that grants him a license to display and point to our shop using the [team] marks in that manner," says MLB.com spokesman Matt Gould. "In this specific case, that was granted only for his Web site."
In other words, the MySpace site was a third party, outside the agreement between Cubbies Baseball and MLB Advanced Media, which runs MLB.com, including the MLB Shop. There are many fan sites for the Cubs and other teams on MySpace. Gould says McGraw ran into trouble with baseball by trying to use his MySpace page as an extension of his business.
McGraw doesn't see it that way.
"If you ask me," he writes, "the MySpace baseball fan pages show support for the MLB product. It doesn't make sense to me that MLB would discourage people from showing support for their favorite baseball teams."
Gould says that MLBAM is charged with protecting the trademarks of the 30 clubs, and therefore has an ongoing effort to police sites like MySpace in search of businesses trying to make a buck by using those trademarks.
"We're really talking about the non-fan and, the word I use, impostor sites," he says, "sites that are claiming to be the official site of a club. We're not trying to infringe on the rights of fans. We're not out there to butt heads, we're not on a witch hunt. We're not looking to take things away from fans and not give them the opportunity to show their love for their team."
McGraw, a Michigan native who says he works in information systems for a Fortune 500 company in the Chicago area, also runs similar sites devoted to the Detroit Pistons and the Green Bay Packers, his other favorite teams.
Both of those sites have corresponding MySpace pages, but neither has nearly the 3,000 friends the Cubbies Baseball page had. As of Thursday afternoon, McGraw's Packers MySpace page had 451 friends, the Pistons page had 66.
MySpace didn't return calls for comment, from either McGraw or this column. It really ought to look into the concept of the cease and desist request. MySpace is huge at the moment, but it's huge in an industry in which this year's huge is next year's fire sale.
McGraw writes in his blog post that he doesn't plan to fight MLB because it's a partner, but: "As for MySpace, you cam imagine how I feel about them right now."
High-handed treatment of the customers is not a good business model.
That's a lesson baseball can learn too, even though, unlike in MySpace's business, it's not likely to be challenged tomorrow by a competitor that pops up out of nowhere. I don't think MLB is the villain in this little drama, but there's a reason a writer for AOL Fanhouse -- which is a smart site -- would conclude baseball "hates its fans and is dead set against appealing to anyone under the age of 50." It fits a pattern.
Baseball also could have dropped McGraw a note politely asking him to remove its trademarks rather than letting MySpace go straight to the nuclear option.
McGraw and his 3,000 friends are experiencing something they should be familiar with as sport fans: no respect. It's just that this time they're getting it from MySpace.
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