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A&E Adds to Baseball Line-up With 'Essential Games'

19 Apr, 2008 By: John Latchem

A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball are ready to play ball with a new addition to their series of complete-game boxed sets.

Having pioneered the market for presenting the complete broadcasts of championship series on DVD, A&E June 3 (prebook May 13) debuts its “Essential Games” line. Initial releases include The Boston Red Sox: Essential Games of Fenway Park and The New York Mets: Essential Games of Shea Stadium. Each six-DVD set contains six games for $59.95.

A&E also will continue with its bread and butter of MLB releases, complete collections of World Series games. Due April 29 is The Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 World Series Collector's Edition, a $69.95 set featuring all seven games of Arizona's dramatic victory over the New York Yankees.

These releases bring to 17 the total number of game sets produced by the collaboration between MLB and A&E, which four years started putting complete games on DVD for collectors.

Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, which all have their DVDs distributed through Warner Home Video, Major League Baseball contracts with two DVD vendors. Shout! Factory distributes original content such as new documentaries and highlight films, while A&E Home Video offers releases built on MLB's game archive.

Traditionally, championship teams are commemorated with a highlight film of their season. MLB had completed its deal with Shout! Factory when A&E Home Video made a proposal to mine the MLB catalog and release complete games on DVD.

“We wanted to do a complimentary product line,” said Kate Winn, VP of sales and marketing for A&E Home Video. “When people are passionate about something, they want to own everything. They want those whole games. They want that trophy for their shelf, to tell everyone their team won the World Series.”

Scott adds: “This is a powerful purchase for a baseball fan.”

The first year of the new agreement, A&E lucked out when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and captured the team's first title since 1918. It resulted in the release of an 11-DVD set containing not only the four World Series games, but also the seven American League Championship Series games, in which the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the New York Yankees.

“You couldn't appreciate games four, five, six or seven of the LCS, or even the World Series for that matter, without understanding what happened in games one through three,” said Elizabeth Scott, VP of programming and business affairs for MLB. “Their backs were up against the wall. It just made sense to release all 11 games.”

Adds Winn: “Their fans had quite an appetite for product. It was incredibly successful.”

Subsequent World Series releases consist of seven discs. If the series didn't go the maximum seven games, MLB and A&E round out the sets with LCS games or other material on a bonus disc. Seven became the standard, Scott said, as a result of needing to set a price for the set to start promoting it long before the World Series outcome is determined.

Under the agreement, A&E releases five MLB sets each year, including the most recent World Series and a selection of historic Fall Classics. A variety of factors determine which teams are represented with a release of historic games.

“The first thing to look at is what club or stadium is celebrating a major anniversary,” Scott said. “That creates marketing platforms that are wonderful for us to leverage the sale of the product.”

For example, the recently released boxed set of the 1988 World Series, won by the Los Angeles Dodgers, coincides with not only the 20th anniversary of that series, but also the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' first season in Los Angeles, having moved from Brooklyn in 1958.

“We try to spread the wealth,” Scott said. “Some teams have a richer history than others. We try to find the right moment to do this for every club.”

A&E has plenty of games to choose from. According to Scott, MLB has saved every regular-season game broadcast since 1999, but most games before that have been lost.

“The sad fact of life is not everyone recorded these games with a vision toward saving everything,” Scott said.

MLB has footage dating back 100 years, but the earliest World Series games in the archives, according to Scott, are games six and seven from 1952. As far as having every game in a World Series, MLB's archives go back to only the late 1960s.

While the MLB does its best to locate the highest quality version of every game, Scott said, some video or audio distortion is inevitable. Disclaimers are included on every DVD.

Other than commercials, though, fans get the unedited game, “pretty much as it was served up back then,” Scott said.

Winn sees the “Essential Games” sets as a good opportunity to supplement the World Series line.

“As much as people love their teams, people love their ballparks,” Winn said.

Fenway and Shea were natural selections, Winn said — Shea because the stadium is closing, and Fenway because the Red Sox have a rabid fan base.

The Shea Stadium and Fenway Park sets aren't A&E's first releases to compile the greatest games of a particular team or stadium. The company in 2006 released St. Louis Cardinals: Greatest Games of Busch Stadium, honoring the final year of that ballpark, and in 2007 released Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector's Edition and Balitmore Orioles Legends: Cal Ripkin Jr. Collector's Edition.

Distinguishing the new “Essential Games” releases are slimmer steelbook packaging, and, in the case of the Red Sox set, the chance for fans to choose the games.

For the Red Sox set, fans chose the 1967 game against the Twins in which Carl Yastrzemski hit his 44th home run; Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, in which Carlton Fisk hit a famous walk-off home run against the Cincinnati Reds; the 1986 game in which Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners to set an MLB record; the 1999 All-Star Game with All-Century Team celebration; Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees; and the 2007 game against the Yankees in which the Sox hit four consecutive home runs.

Casual fans might wonder why no games from the 2004 World Series made the list, but it's not a surprise to Scott.

“If we were picking them, it would be a no-brainer to us,” Scott said. “But we think the fans already own the 2004 set, and they didn't want to waste one of the games on something they already had.”

In contrast, games in the Shea Stadium set were chosen by MLB experts. The set includes the pivotal sixth game of the 1986 World Series, which ended on Bill Buckner's famous error. The game was previously released in 2006 in a 1986 World Series boxed set. The Shea set also includes Game 4 of the 1969 World Series; Game 3 of the 1986 National League Championship Series; Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS; an emotional game against the Atlanta Braves Sept. 21, 2001; and the May 19, 2006 game against the Yankees.

Scott said the MLB DVDs are usually released early in the year to take advantage of fan interest surrounding opening day.

“That's the best time to capitalize on the enthusiasm fans have for a team,” Scott said. “If the team ends up having a bad year, they're less willing to buy product later in the season.”

For other sports, Warner now offers its own line of complete-game boxed sets, most recently releasing a seven-disc set containing all the games from the 1985-86 NBA finals, won by the Boston Celtics.

However, because Warner handles all product for its sports, its complete game boxed sets usually also include the highlight DVD associated with the series.

MLB's Scott doesn't see that as a disadvantage for the baseball product lines.

“I like to think any fan is going to buy both products,” Scott said.

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