2002-08-03 / Sports

MLB Has Another PR

Disaster With Website Mess
By Elio Velez

By Elio Velez

For Wave baseball columnist Bryan Hoch, the idea of facing Major League Baseball for shutting down his website, MetsOnline.net, has been a daunting task for the past week. The administrator and creator of the fan website since 1996 is facing the huge specter of MLB Properties for supposed federal copyright infringements and intentionally trying to make a profit.

With all of its ongoing problems with players, fans, media and owners, MLB's first priority should not be focusing on shutting down a fan website. The potential public relations disaster has already started with articles in Newsday, New York Sun and other media outlets. If MLB feels proud of taking down a fan of a team, they did a great job.

Every week, 10,000 to 15,000 people from around the world went to the site for information about their favorite team. I was one of those people and that is how I approached Bryan to write a column for the Wave. Now, I, and many others, get shafted by not getting information from his website.

Through the next four years, the website grew with at least 10 freelance writers contributing, news, views, and rumors of possible trades involving Mets players - often dead-on accurate. He placed a disclaimer within the site that it was not affiliated with the Mets and MLB.

Bryan was not paid for doing this website. It becomes a running theme in this story.

As the website grew, the New York Mets gave Hoch the opportunity in April 2000 to help maintain their own website at Mets.com.

"They (the Mets) told me that they had seen what I had done online and offered me an unpaid internship," he

said. He helped to write for and update the website throughout the 2000 season until MLB took over the Mets and all 30 team websites.

Bryan was not paid or made profit for doing the website.

Following his internship, Hoch continued to cover the Mets through his website. "In June 2001, I contacted Mets media relations and they approved me on a game-by-game basis for press credentials to cover the club for MetsOnline.net. That was most helpful and continued through the year, but league credentialing policy changed before the 2002 season."

On July 25th, MLB Properties sent Hoch a cease and desist order email to deactivate the website and transfer the domain name of MetsOnline.net to Major League Baseball.

He was accused of profiting off the trademarks of the Mets and MLB, and violating the Anticybersquatting

Consumer Protection Act. He was only given five days to end the website.

The issue at hand was that Hoch briefly offered merchandise sales of the Metsonline.net name, but not the logos or writings of the New York Mets or MLB, or t-shirts and other products. The total sale received was $16.00, $12.00 of which went in sales to Hoch's girlfriend and younger brother.

There was no reaching out by MLB to discuss arrangements to take down certain parts of the website that may or may not have been illegal, a part of a reasonable negotiation on a contract that takes place in any line of business. MLB wanted MetsOnline taken off the net and wanted the domain name as well. So much for tact.

At 5 p.m. on July 30th, Hoch complied with the order and ended publication of his content on the site. Hoch is talking with MLB and hopes to open up the website again. "It's all in MLB's hands now and whatever they deem necessary." he said. "I hope to reach a compromise with MLB as soon as possible."

In this story, the Mets are just innocent bystanders to the MLB machine. David Cohen, Vice President and General Counsel for the New York Mets, agrees with what MLB Properties is doing to protect federal statues but still supports the idea of fansites such as MetsOnline.

"We have to follow MLB and play by the rules, but we don't want to infringe on web fansites," he said. "We hope Bryan and MLB Properties come together on a decision as soon as possible."

Hoch is not alone in his problems with MLB Properties. Ray Kerby, who is the website administrator for

Astrosdaily.com, a Houston Astros fansite, received a similar cease and desist order on July 5th of this year. He was also told that he must end his site in a week.

Instead of going to MLB Properties, Kerby explained his dilemma and worked out a deal with the Astros.

"It was not worth the legal action, so I went to the Astros to help me out," Kerby said. "They didn't want to shut me down so we worked out a fair agreement."

Kerby and the Astros worked out a fair agreement and everyone was happy. Maybe MLB should follow that line of reasonable negotiation.

MLB Properties was contacted but did not return phone calls as of press time.

For MLB to focus their intent on destroying sports fans' websites, where people discuss about their teams is taken down, encourages the fans even more to not follow the product. With the rhetoric of Bud Selig saying that a strike will not occur, the players can and still might set a strike date of September 16.

The issue of going after fan websites is a small issue that can be resolved quietly. This issue is another example of the MLB Public Relations department not handling an issue with class and respect. Their way of handling tactics was incorrect but it is typical of what has been going on lately from Selig and the owners. This is another example of why fans won't come back to the game if there is a prolonged strike.

If Armageddon is what MLB wants, Armageddon they shall get. 

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