August 3, 2004 10:57 AM PDT

Nokia pitches baseball to phones

Play call!

Nokia is bringing baseball to cell phones. Noting that the arrangement will not deliver many of the aesthetic pleasures of the ballpark, such as the smell of hot dogs and fresh-cut grass, the phone maker nonetheless seemed pleased about winning a programming deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) on Tuesday.

The agreement with MLB Advanced Media, the league's Internet arm, gives Nokia the exclusive right, for the rest of the baseball season, to embed in cell phones an application to receive live audio broadcasts of every game, daily video highlights, game images, league news and up-to-the-minute standings and scores. Nokia would not disclose the value of the deal, but a representative said it was a revenue-sharing agreement.

The baseball content is being added to the Nokia Sports application, which also lets T-Mobile USA subscribers access a package of video highlights from the National Basketball Association.

With the addition of play-by-play, MLB and Nokia say they are significantly improving on typical cell phone sports fare. However, the package comes with a relatively high price tag--$7.99 per month. MLB sells wired Internet users an entire season's worth of baseball radio broadcasts for about $15, while live video of games on a PC costs $15 a month. Video highlights of National Basketball Association games, available from T-Mobile, costs $4.99 per month.

The service will first be made available to owners of Nokia 6600 handsets, currently supported only by T-Mobile. The phones cost $300 after a rebate from the carrier. The software enabling the baseball offering will be embedded in the Nokia 6620 phone, due for the United States in about a week. Nokia said the charges for the service will be billed directly to users' wireless accounts. The Nokia Sports application is already available for free download, though users must pay existing data transfer fees for the time they spend logged onto the system.

Earlier this year, hardball aficionados saw their avenues for online MLB coverage change hands and expand through several major deals In March, Microsoft signed a two-year, $40 million deal to offer live streaming video of Major League Baseball games for its MSN subscribers. This came just a few weeks after streaming media rival RealNetworks ended talks to renew its exclusive deal with MLB. America Online also struck a deal with MLB to get live audio feeds and archived video clips for $9 million over two years.

The MLB agreements mark the largest of their kind in Internet history, and some experts believe they could signal more lucrative deals for programming rights down the road.

 

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