WASHINGTON, April 20 (UPI) -- It's April, and the great American pastime is back in action. Major League Baseball's season is under way, giving fans a chance to partake in the ritual experience of enjoying baseball games via radio broadcast.
Though the experience has been much the same for decades, its availability received a makeover last year, the first of an 11-year contract MLB signed with XM Satellite Radio, which has thus far been mutually beneficial.
"We view Major League Baseball as the crown jewel of sports on the radio," said Chance Patterson, XM's vice president of programming operations.
Patterson said an XM customer survey found that of the 2.7 million new XM subscribers in 2005, 24 percent reported baseball as an aspect of their decision to subscribe.
Subscribers receive radio broadcasts of every regular season and playoff game, regardless of their home location. This is a big selling point, Patterson said.
"Most people don't live in their hometown," he said. "There is a large majority of displaced fans who wanted to have some way to access their favorite team."
Patterson noted the long history of baseball on the radio that makes it such a valuable commodity for XM.
"Many millions grew up listening to baseball on the radio," he said. "The nature of the game plays well on the radio."
In addition to all the games, XM also offers MLB Home Plate, a dedicated 24-hour baseball channel that Patterson said is the only of its kind.
Home Plate offers call-in shows, interviews, and shows hosted by former players such as Cal Ripken Jr., Rob Dibble and Orestes Estrada.
"We have an All-Star lineup of folks on MLB Home Plate," Patterson said. "Baseball fans can use Home Plate as an anchor."
XM also appeals to Spanish-speaking baseball fans, broadcasting several games each week in Spanish and offering a dedicated Spanish call-in show.
Ryan Saghir, satellite radio expert and blogger at Orbitcast.com, said MLB's deal with XM was "one of the defining moments for the satellite radio industry."
"It came right after Howard Stern's deal was announced with Sirius, and kicked off the 'content wars' between the two satcasters," he said.
Saghir said that while the Stern deal has given Sirius an edge on bringing in new subscribers, MLB ranks as the second most significant content acquisition for satellite radio, with growth potential still looming.
"With promotions like XM giving away satellite radio receivers to World Series game attendants, its marketing opportunities will have long-term potential," he said.
The up-to-the-second nature of baseball broadcasts helps XM not only in the satellite battle with Sirius but in marketing against other products, Saghir noted.
"It's also an added value when comparing XM to Apple's iPod, for instance - there's nothing like live play-by-play sports," he said.
In addition to baseball, XM offers NASCAR, the 2006 World Cup, the PGA Tour, and college athletics of the ACC, Big 10, and Pac 10 conferences. XM broadcasts more than 5,000 live sporting events each year, according to Patterson.
Sirius's sports deals include the NBA, NFL, English Premier League soccer, and several college conferences.
Patterson said that sports, and particularly baseball, are key aspects in getting the public to embrace satellite technology.
"It's become part of our culture," he said. "We're trying to expand that culture into the 21st Century. We were very confident that baseball on XM would become as successful as it has been."
Patterson said that XM, which currently has 6.5 million subscribers, expects to break 9 million subscribers by the end of this year, and achieve 20 million by the end of the year 2010.