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If you've ever tried to settle an argument by citing a statistic developed in the last decade, you may have found yourself on the receiving end of a common refrain: "Get your head out of that spreadsheet and try watching a game." Of course, there's never been any truth to the idea that people who like to study baseball stats do so instead of seeing games. If and when we have our heads stuck in spreadsheets, it's because we watch a lot of games and enjoy them so much that we want to better understand what we're seeing. And for people who watch a lot of baseball, the ability to stream games online through MLB.TV since the 2002 season has made life a lot better.
A look at the ten most likely places for a new MLB club
It seems that nearly every week, articles surrounding the potential relocation of the A’s and Rays surface. A panel looking into a potential San Jose relocation for the A’s has been gridlocked since 2009 (and remember, the A’s have been looking to move to San Jose for a heck of a lot longer than that). The Rays haven’t been far behind in their efforts to get out of Tropicana Field. Whether it’s the commute for fans to get to the domed stadium, the aesthetics, or the need to be closer to an urban core, it seems that Tampa Bay has been seeking a new ballpark for just as long. Relocation for these two clubs is crucial.
Another thing that comes up less frequently but has extra meaning going into 2013 is expansion. With the Astros moving into the AL West, the American League and National League will now be balanced at 15 clubs a piece. The problem is that 15 is an odd number, and as a result, interleague will become a daily affair. It’s unlikely that’s something that the league wanted, so getting to 32 clubs would take care of that matter. That would mean revenues spread thinner with two extra mouths to feed. Additionally, it’s no given that one or both wouldn’t be revenue-sharing takers, and trying to get ballparks built is no easy feat in this economy. So, 30 is a number that seems to suit the “Big Four” sports leagues in North America. The NBA has it. Ditto for the NHL. Currently, only the NFL—which has the advantage of being highly centralized (revenues are shared more evenly across the franchises) and exceptionally popular—is the exception at 32 clubs.
Will MLB.tv ever make your home team's games available for web viewing?
Living in the future has its advantages. Back when I was a kid, in the late Pleistocene, catching a ballgame remotely meant either watching your local teams on TV or, if you were away from your living room, listening on the radio; maybe if you were very lucky and it was late at night and the ionosphere was aligned just right, you might be able to just barely tune in something that might possibly be Ernie Harwell on an out-of-town broadcast. Today, anyone with $99.99 burning a hole in their credit card ($119.99 if you want DVR-style gewgaws like fast-forward and rewind) can sign up for MLB.tv and watch any game, whether spring training, regular season, or postseason, on their computer, iPad, smartphone, or PlayStation 3—I'm sure that right this moment someone somewhere at MLB Advanced Media is working on an app that will stream hi-def baseball video live to the dashboard display of your flying car, just as soon as those are invented.
Any game, that is, unless it's one involving your local team. In that case, you're still stuck with 20th-century technology, and either tethered to your TV or forced to stick with audio. Any attempt to do otherwise will result in that dreaded message familiar to MLB.tv users: "We're sorry. Due to your current location you are blacked out of watching the game you have selected...."
Back in January, when Apple finally debuted the iPad after years of speculation, Major League Baseball was one of the few companies invited to demo their application live at the unveiling. After seeing MLBAM's presentation, it was no wonder: At Bat for iPad looked incredible, particularly MLB.tv, and I went as far as to call it "the future of baseball broadcasting."
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This could be the year that watching MLB games on mediums other than television takes off.
We're coming up on a really fascinating period in the history of sports media. At some point in the next five to 10 years, the television industry is going to be staring down the same barrel that the music industry has been looking at for the last decade. Cable in particular is just waiting to get its lunch eaten, as our already-exorbitant monthly rates keep going up thanks to more and more basic-tier channels that we'll never, ever watch. For the major sports leagues (and even some of the non-major ones, for that matter), the options are pretty clear: develop some contingency plans, or risk losing an incredibly large chunk of your revenues.
Two leagues, and two massively different approaches to streaming.
In a lot of ways, MLB Advanced Media really gets it. Their marketing strategy needs a major overhaul-they're trying to be a portal in a post-portal world, and it's grossly limiting their earning potential-but their technology is best-in-breed, and they really seem to understand that sports games will eventually be broadcast and distributed by the leagues themselves, not third-party networks. And why not? Once internet-enabled televisions and super-high-speed broadband become commonplace, cable networks will start being phased out, and MLB Extra Innings will become unnecessary. MLB can just cut out the middle man and make MLB.tv its primary method of distributing baseball games-on your television, computer, or mobile phone.
A closer look at the performance and the possibilities of the upgraded MLB At Bat baseball app.
For sports business and tech nerds, last Wednesday seemed like our equivalent of a man walking on the moon. MLB Advanced Media launched live-game streaming on its MLB At Bat iPhone application, following Apple's long-awaited iPhone 3.0 software update. For the first time, we're now able to watch live baseball on our mobile phones, without any complicated workarounds or external devices. Yes, we are officially in the future.
Major League Baseball struggles to come to terms with a swiftly evolving marketplace where much of what you have to sell may be best offered for free.
Through a number of technological and legal means, [MLB has] tried like crazy to maintain control over what their customers consume. They've failed, like most entities not named De Beers. The result is a huge base of "Open Source" MLB entertainment... Open source has provided MLB with an entirely new engine for generating fan interest, one they could not have developed on their own.
-Gary Huckabay, BP 2009
Making their original content both accessible and free may be the best possible option.
Despite the horrendous economy, MLBAM is actually in a rare sweet spot. The business models that worked for media companies in the twentieth century are on life support, and may be gone faster than anybody had anticipated. (Would you advertise in a newspaper right now?) Every dollar is precious, and companies are looking for advertising mediums that can give them a more quantifiable return. Naturally, most are shifting to the internet, where every action is trackable. So even as total advertising output shrinks, the online pie will continue to grow.
MLBAM is in a great position to take advantage of that, since it already has two robust revenue streams (which is one more than most dominant internet companies). According to BusinessWeek.com, half of BAM's revenue (about $225 million in 2008) came from MLB.tv subscriptions, while the other half came from advertising and "other extras." The MLB.tv business should grow organically; the underlying technology is constantly improving, and high-speed internet access will only become more ubiquitous. At $120, it's a tremendous value-you can't watch six games at once on MLB Extra Innings-so there's no reason to think the product will be anything but an obvious winner. And it will only get even more interesting when internet-enabled televisions become the norm in a couple of years.