APM Music To Serve as Unified Music Resource for Major League Baseball

Under the deal, the production-music supplier will also manage copyright clearance

Major League Baseball and APM Music have reached an agreement under which the Los Angeles-based production-music supplier will provide all the prerecorded music from its catalogs used by the league and its 30 teams, collectively and individually, for broadcast, in-venue, commercial, promotional, and social-media applications. It will also manage copyright-clearance services for music from other sources.

The term of the agreement, which was signed in December but not announced at the time, is four years. The dollar value was not disclosed but is based on a flat annual fee.

The exclusive, league-wide deal builds on previous arrangements with individual MLB teams, including the New York Mets, for which APM created custom music and scoring as well as providing other audio resources and related services for multiple in-stadium and broadcast applications.

APM Music’s Matthew Gutknecht: “The goal is to create a unifying, creative resource across teams, the league, cable properties, and digital, while also managing liability.”

Potential audio services under consideration include sound design, such as creation of sonic-branding elements that teams can use for marketing purposes.

According to Matthew Gutknecht, director, sports entertainment, APM Music, the arrangement can be scaled according to individual teams’ financial resources and creative needs. For instance, original music scores for team and league productions will be available as a separate option.

The 40-year-old company, owned jointly by Sony Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing, has an extensive history in developing production music for broadcast sports. Among its clients are the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers, MLB L.A. Dodgers, MLS Philadelphia Union, and NBA L.A. Lakers; production entities NASCAR, NFL Films, and PGA TOUR Productions; and collegiate athletics programs at Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, and Clemson. Its sports-music roster includes some iconic tracks, such as “Heavy Action,” familiar as the Monday Night Football theme, and catalogs like the NFL Films Music Library and MLB Music Library.

“It was very challenging to get the league to agree to a league-wide deal, where some teams have more [media] resources [and] others had little or no budget for that,” Gutknecht says. “We were able to equitably create a solution right down the middle to make everyone as happy as possible. The goal is to create a unifying, creative resource — a level playing field, no pun intended — across teams, the league, cable properties, and digital, while also managing liability as broadly as possible at reasonable cost.”

Legal Land Mines

The reference to liability underscores a music-media legal land mine increasingly encountered by broadcast sports: copyright-infringement litigation between leagues, broadcasters, and music publishers. For instance, if music properly licensed, through a performing-rights organization such as BMI or ASCAP, for in-venue use over the PA system in a venue leaks into a game broadcast, that could constitute unintended but nonetheless very real copyright infringement. Such litigation has become more frequent in recent years as the range of outlets and number of sports media on the air and online have mushroomed, as has the number of open microphones in sports venues — including a growing array worn by the athletes themselves — creating more potential for unintended copyright infringements.

“The rules of the game have changed,” say Gutknecht, referring to rightsholders’ more forcefully asserting such infringements. “We interface with legal departments far more now than in the past.”

Having a legal framework in place around music usage could encourage the use of more music and in more ways, he contends: “People are thinking about music differently now that they don’t have to be concerned about liability. Now they can get above that and think of their overall content strategy. What’s their opening video, what’s their special anniversary? Is there a uniform reveal? All of that needs music.”

Major Leagues, Big Deals

The MLB deal is similar to one that APM Music secured with the National Hockey League in October 2021. Under the terms of the MLB arrangement, teams will be able to use APM’s music resources — current inventory and archives — and copyright-clearance services for music from such other sources as the vast catalogs of Universal Music and Sony Music.

“We’re not like music supervisors,” says Gutknecht, referring to those who manage the music choices for film and television projects. “But we’re starting to lean in that direction. We’re not there just to provide a resource but also to advise our clients.”

He notes that, since the NHL deal, sports leagues have significantly increased their use of music in venues, on-air, and, particularly, on social media, where he adds, copyright issues increasingly occur. Furthermore, baseball has developed additional applications for music, notably the increased use of “walk-up music,” songs individually chosen by hitters and played as they approach the batter’s box. In some cases, to avoid unintentional infringements, small PA systems have been built in some stadiums to keep that music focused on the home-plate area and out of the effects microphones surrounding it.

“People are beginning to realize that you can’t just take a clip from a game and post it to social media; there is no ‘implied sync,’” Gutknecht says, referring to synchronization licenses that allow film and television to secure rights to use music. “We’re trying to cover all of that creatively.”

Content Strategies

Interestingly, he suggests that last year’s 100-day-long league lockout that delayed the start of the season might have underscored the need for a content strategy.

“People were not sure when the season was going to begin,” he says. “So there wasn’t a lot of prep time in terms of a content strategy, especially if they were just trying to get [content] up and out the door on social media and in the ballpark. It was more, I believe, a reactive content and music strategy, or more a lack thereof. Now, with a more normalized, predictive production calendar, people can objectively look at their content strategy and figure out how our music solution, through the league and other complementary services, can help them execute relative to their aspirations.”

As sports and entertainment continue to mesh more deeply, teams and leagues may increasingly partner with for-hire music sources to help them navigate not only the legal challenges of a more complicated copyright universe but also the cultural and social pathways needed to connect with more fans. The NFL’s deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which has produced the last three Super Bowl Halftime music events, is an example of major-league sports’ collaborating with entertainment-production entities. Another example is the NHL’s collaboration with hip-hop producer/artist Timbaland for the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals and Final and the 2021 NHL Draft events and broadcasts.

The goal is to reach out to younger and more-diverse potential audiences at a time when baseball’s appeal has been diminishing. In 2022, MLB saw a 5.7% decline in total regular-season attendance from 2019 (not counting the COVID-impacted seasons), a downward trend that has been in place for more than a decade and is particularly acute among Gen-Z members, who spend more time with music than other generations do.

Says Gutknecht, “We plan on helping MLB develop strategies for that and other applications for music.”

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