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March 11, 2010

Squawking Baseball

At Bat 2010

by Shawn Hoffman

With the pressure on, MLB Advanced Media released the latest version of its iPhone app, At Bat 2010, just moments before spring training games began last week. And although it is once again a hit, this new version is without a doubt an evolution, not a revolution. You'll get all of the key features from last year (Gameday Audio, MLB.tv (if you are a subscriber), pitch-by-pitch, box scores, etc.), plus a few new bells and whistles. But most of what you'll find are only slight upgrades to the previous edition.

MLBAM's press release screams this out; the top new "enhancement" is "Spring Training: up-to-the moment scoreboard, statistics and pitch accounts, video highlights of key plays and live audio without blackout restrictions, plus the unprecedented option of live video with MLB.TV beginning in mid-March." Well, OK, I guess that's something. Probably not what I would have led with, but I guess it's better to have than not have.

The real improvements are slight changes to existing features. For example, you used to have to press on the game you were interested in to see the base/out/count situation; now, it's right there in the main view for every game. You can also now "favorite" more than one team, so if you're a Yankees fan, you can place the Red Sox games at the top of your list as well (because you want to see the score, not because they're your "favorite").

 

Chart 1

The dashboard on the bottom of the screen has been overhauled as well, as it now contains news, standings, and videos, all of which had previously been relegated to the "More" section. This is a big improvement, as it used to be just as easy (if not easier) to go to MLB.com to get this information. Same goes for schedules, rosters, and stats, which are now available in the team sections.

Obviously, these parts are all pretty much standard fare, but there's one really cool new twist to the video section: it's searchable by player and team. You can't go very deep into BAM's archives -- 25 results, it looks like -- but if you want a video from at least the last couple weeks, you should be in luck. As an example, I searched for Andrew McCutchen and saw highlights going back to September 23rd.

The coolest new feature, in my opinion, involves what I've always thought was At Bat's killer app: Gameday Audio. It is, however, a bit of a workaround; since Apple doesn't allow third-party apps to run in the background, Gameday Audio only works when you have At Bat up and running on your phone. So in the past, if you wanted to check your e-mail or respond to a text message, you'd need to shut down the game feed, do whatever it was you needed to do, and then reopen At Bat and re-start the audio. A pain. Now, however, there's something of a solution; since Apple's official apps (iPod, Phone, Safari, etc.) canwork in the background, BAM has made it relatively simple to run Gameday Audio in Safari. (See the picture below.) Not the most elegant solution in the world, but I'll definitely be using it.

 

Chart 2

Now, let's get to what I don't like. First and foremost, the player cards are terrible. Embarrassingly so. For hitters, there are only five offensive categories -- AB, AVG, HR, RBI, OPS -- some basic bio data, today's line, and 1890's most advanced defensive stats. For pitchers, get this: AB, AVG, HR, BB, SO. That's a fascinatingly weird selection.

I'm not asking for BP- or FanGraphs-level stats; what I am asking for is a player's full traditional line -- plate appearances, walks, strikeouts, OBP, SLG, and so on for hitters; innings pitched, batters faced, and maybe even ERA, if you're into that sort of thing, for pitchers. It's mind-boggling that Sportacular, among who knows how many other general sports apps, have better player cards than At Bat.

 

Chart 3

 

Chart 4

As for the rest, I have more suggestions than complaints. I'm not big on fantasy, but I do root for some players more than others, and I'd love to get a push notification when those players are on deck, or coming in from the bullpen. In an even more ideal world, the notification would take me right to the MLB.tv game feed, so I could be watching in seconds. I'd also like the option to get a notification after the at-bat or appearance is over, with the results.

I think fantasy players would love this, too, and it would be smart for MLBAM to make more use out of the iPhone's push capabilities. Right now, you can get notifications when your favorite teams' games start or end, and when their condensed games or highlights are ready to view. Those are definitely useful, but there's a lot of room for expansion.

Finally, there's the price, which caused a lot of grumbling when the app was released as $15 is a lot for an iPhone app, even if the producer does have a semi-monopolistic hold on much of the content. I personally think it's worth it, purely for Gameday Audio, and it seems like a decent amount of people seem to agree. But I still feel like it's a mistake. Let's say BAM sold two million of these, a pretty aggressive figure, considering that estimates had them at 1.2 million last year, when the price was $5 lower. That sales level would result in $21 million in revenue, after Apple takes its cut, hardly earth-shattering for a company doing at least half a billion in total revenue.

Let's say MLBAM made At Bat free; would the extra attention it receives be worth that $21 million? And even if it doesn't feel quite comfortable with the "attention economy" argument, wouldn't it be trivially easy to sell $21 million in media subscriptions from the app? In other words, if you put At Bat in the hands of 10 million people instead of two million, couldn't you get one in 50 or one in one 100 to buy MLB.tv or Gameday Audio? I'm pretty sure they could.

Anyway, I do think the app is worth the $15, and there are sure to be some features added during the season. One that's already been announced is something called "At The Ballpark," which BAM mentioned in its press release and already has a link to in the app, although they've yet to explain it. BAM also released At Bat for Android, which I'm sure is very similar, but I haven't had a chance to use it yet. (If anybody has, give us your review in the comments.)

And don't forget, we're less than a month away from having that other piece of equipment come out…

Shawn Hoffman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Shawn's other articles. You can contact Shawn by clicking here

Related Content:  MLB Gameday,  Fangraphs Audio

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

dianagram

Nice write-up.

And thanks for the heads-up on the Safari workaround ... that was the most annoying aspect of last year's app.

Mar 11, 2010 08:40 AM
rating: 0
 
rotoman21

Nice job on the article.

Did you use it over both 3G and wifi. I assume wifi wouldn't have any issues but if you use it on 3G, does the audio go in and out?

Mar 11, 2010 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
lucidmatt

I used it frequently on 3G last year, and the audio still works great.

I also watched quite a few games over 3G and while it's not always perfect, it's still pretty darn good.

Mar 11, 2010 09:29 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Shawn Hoffman
BP staff

3G works very well with the audio, as long as you're in a place with service. Video is a little rough, and the phone gets really hot after a few minutes.

Mar 11, 2010 09:42 AM
 
blw777

And battery life can be problematic, too. Even with audio only, but especially with video.

Mar 11, 2010 14:15 PM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

As an alternative if you just want audio, buy the ooTunes Radio app and tune in you hometown radio station over your iPhone. It's a $5 app instead of a $15 (and potentially more in the future) annual charge.

As Shawn writes, there are better apps for box scores and player info.

If you want live video, this is your only choice. I used it last season and it works better than I expected on 3G.

Really what this app gives you is Gameday plus mobile video rights if you've already bought video rights via MLB.TV. I don't think that's especially compelling for $15, but it's also not crazy.

Mar 11, 2010 10:12 AM
rating: -2
 
jrbdmb

MLB (and other major sports) games are usually blacked out on radio internet feeds. Sometime you get lucky and find a feed that isn't blacked out, but for me it's worth $15 to not have to deal with it.

Mar 12, 2010 06:28 AM
rating: 0
 
Henry F.

I found that last year, the At-Bat app would work with minimal interruption on the Edge network, but the 2010 version does not seem to follow suit, which is quite disappointing to my battery.

Mar 11, 2010 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
kmbart

Is it possible to access MLB Audio and MLB.tv on the iPhone just through Safari without purchasing the app?

Mar 11, 2010 10:51 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Shawn Hoffman
BP staff

I don't think so. I tried to see if I could find this in the browser, but I'm pretty sure MLB looks at At Bat as an audio subscription, in itself.

Mar 11, 2010 12:01 PM
 
kmbart

I figured. Just frustrating to have to pay for MLB.tv, which includes Gameday Audio, and then pay again for audio with At Bat.

Mar 11, 2010 12:07 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

With MLB.tv and At Bat, you get every game on your phone. Without MLB.tv, just one or two a day. Think of the audio as a bonus.

Mar 11, 2010 12:21 PM
 
jrbdmb

I used to sub to the MLB.com Gameday Audio - also $15, handy for indoor offices where 3G is problematic. I was hoping not to have to buy the MLB.com product *and* the iPhone app - but it sounds like I'm out of luck.

Mar 12, 2010 06:34 AM
rating: 0
 
wonkothesane1

How come this is so iPhone-centric? How much of this applies to the Droid version?

Mar 11, 2010 11:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Andrew
(38)

Or Blackberry, for that matter. Considering getting that for the season rather than ScoreMobile, but not if the stats above are any indication of how it'll work.

Mar 11, 2010 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

I have the Droid version, and it's equally good. Same features, same interface and it does NOT have the multi-app issue that the IPhone has, as it doesn't mind multi-tasking as much.

Mar 11, 2010 13:57 PM
 
Dan

Not directly relevant, but has anyone heard anything new on the mlb.tv for Xbox360 front?

Mar 11, 2010 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
dannimal

Background audio easily makes this worth $15. Gameday Audio alone (for computers) costs $15 a year. Pretty easy to pipe iPhone/Touch audio out to speakers, so in a sense AtBat is free (although you lose the ability to listen directly from a computer, which is not an issue for me).

Mar 11, 2010 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member MattBishoff
BP staff

Curious about Droid development as well. Heard they ran a beta during the playoffs last year. Is there any chance of a Droid version releasing soon?

Mar 11, 2010 12:45 PM
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

It's there for $14.99. Just look in the marketplace.

Mar 11, 2010 13:58 PM
 
BP staff member MattBishoff
BP staff

gracias kind sir

Mar 11, 2010 16:27 PM
 
hessshaun

Thankfully, I do not have ATT coverage at my house. If I did, I would own the iphone and could be rendered useless at work during day games.

Last year I bought the package online, but for some strange reason I still found myself watching box scores update, pitch by pitch, to watch my guys. It doesn't even make sense to me.

Mar 11, 2010 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
workermonkey

i see an opportunity for BP to solve the player card problem. they are seriously weak on this app.

Mar 11, 2010 15:31 PM
rating: 0
 
fochsenhirt

Or get the $3 Fangraphs app and run the MLB audio in the background via Safari while you track the real-time box score and stats via Fangraphs. Stats won't improve in this app until they improve in Gameday, which is to say not any time soon.

Mar 12, 2010 07:42 AM
rating: 0
 
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