MLB Updates a Trio of Mobile Apps Ahead for Opening Day


Major League Baseball’s 2013 season has started and the league has updated a number of its successful programs from last year as it seeks to increase its appeal to fans that use mobile connected smart devices.

The heart of the effort is its at Bat 13, which for most mobile users has been available since Spring Training started. At Bat has a host of features that we have recounted earlier so we will just list the basics here. It gives users the ability to listen to live games on a breadth of platforms including PCs and Macs, as well as most smartphones and tablets.

The platform has a wide range of features that will appeal to both serious and casual fans including individual team pages, player statistics, video highlights of current games as well as a classic games video library.

One new feature that is just ready for the regular season is support for the BlackBerry Z10, the latest platform to be supported along with Android and Apple’s iOS. If you already subscribe to MLB.TV Premium then At Bat 13 is free, otherwise it has a $19.99 one time annual fee.

A second app is At the Ballpark, which MLB is expanding to include more parks. The app is part journal, where you can record current trips as well as past ones as far back as 2005. The journal section includes the ability to share photos from the visits. It has a tickets purchase and upgrade sections for select clubs, a range of social media hooks and even allows users to hear ballpark and player entrance music.

The final app is one that can have a great payback for fans; Beat The Streak presented by Dunkin Donuts. It is a game where fans pick players to get a hit and if they manage to beat DiMaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak of 56 games you can win a $5.6 million grand prize. No one won last year and a new rule has been added this year that if you forget to post for a day your streak will not end.

MLB.Com’s At Bat Expands Ballpark with BlackBerry 10 Support

Research in Motion has a lot riding on the upcoming release of its next generation BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry 10, but it now gains support from an important app market from which it has in the past been a virtual non-player, sports.

RIM is expected to unveil its latest smartphone next week at an event in New York City showing both a pair of handsets as well as its latest iteration of its operating system as the company seeks to halt the strong sales and user erosion that it has experienced in the past two years as new generations of smartphones have soared past it in popularity and sales.

The BlackBerry has long been viewed as a solid enterprise tool but was sadly lacking in apps and features that would help it expand out of its business centric sales, but this deal could be the start of a major change in that perspective.

Queue At Bat, one of the most popular apps available for smartphones, and one that seems to be the top app for some time for iPhone users. While pricing and availability details are not yet available, has said that the 2013 version will be available by Opening Day, or rather Opening Night, March 31, 2013.

At Bat is the official mobile app for Major League Baseball and has a huge array of features ranging from Winter Meetings news to analysis of what clubs are doing. Roster information, game scores, both this year and last are available as well as watching games and even for premium members, viewing classic games that are in baseball’s archives.

This is a strong move for RIM and should help it gain at least some credence in the consumer market space, helping break down the barrier from the enterprise into the bigger overall market. It will be interesting to see what other apps are available at announcement because even as popular as this one is, there is a lot of room for growth in this space by the company.

USGA Considering Allowing Cell Phones on Course — But Not This Week

It looks like the USGA was ready for questions about its cell phone policy, as executives from the country’s governing body of golf were all on message Monday saying generally positive things about considering allowing cell phone use during tournament days in the future — while keeping its ban in place for this year’s U.S. Open in San Francisco.

“We’re comfortable with the current policy [of banning cell phones during competition days] but also looking about what to do for the future,” said Joe Goode, managing director of communications for the USGA, in a quick press-room interview Monday.

The question of fans using cell phones on courses is a hot topic given the recent incident at the Memorial tourney in Ohio, where star player Phil Mickelson withdrew reportedly in part because of too many fans snapping cell-phone pictures while he was trying to golf. This year the PGA has allowed fans to have cell phones at all events for the first time. However, major tourney organizers like the Masters and the USGA (which conducts the U.S. Open) set their own rules, and for the Open this week fans won’t even be allowed to bring cell phones to the course once competition starts on Thursday. On practice days like Monday fans can bring as big a camera as they want, apparently. And nobody seemed to care that I was snapping some photos with a cell phone, though maybe it’s because I had a media badge around my neck.

Media and other VIP folks at the Open may bring cell phones in for use in approved areas like the press tent, but today we had to pass through metal detectors and get a special sticker for our cell phones to show they were approved devices, which seems a bit extreme. But it seems like Goode and other USGA types (including top boss Mike Davis, who told ESPN’s Bob Harig about the same thing) are recognizing that cellular phones have already become as regular a pocket or purse companion as a wallet or car keys, and that all-out bans seem a bit stone age, especially to folks who rely on them for important communications to family members, to work or just for posts to Twitter.

What Goode seemed to be saying — and I am paraphrasing here — is that the USGA gets it, they’re not going to ban phones forever, and they believe that there probably is a way to do things that works for fans as well as sensitive players.

They’re just not ready to say exactly what it is, though, so after Wednesday it’ll be time for fans this year to leave their cell phones at home.

But hey, you can always use the phones at tents like this one to call people — but who uses a phone to make calls anymore? What they really need — and I think some PGA stops like Pebble Beach have already tried things like this — is special areas around the course with Wi-Fi access, where fans can get their online Jones without having to bug Phil or Bubba. Now if the Open here in San Francisco had a Twitter tent, that would be forward thinking and hometown cool. Maybe some Twitter folks can jump on BART and do some kind of foo-camp setup (with appropriate sponsoring dollars) before Thursday?

(All images credit Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report; courtesy of The Olympic Club and the USGA.)

AP: Phil Texted Commissioner About… Too Many Cell Phones on the Course

The Associated Press is reporting today that Phil Mickelson sent PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem a text during last Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial, complaining about the fans’ unruly use of digital devices. From the AP story:

According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand.

The story raises a bunch of questions — hey, are golfers going to be like NASCAR drivers, tweeting from the course? — and also (as GigaOM’s Stacey H says) ignores the obvious irony, that Mickelson is using a cell phone to complain about people using cell phones.

We expect to hear more about this bubbling issue at the press conferences for the U.S. Open next week. Should be interesting to see how big tour sponsor AT&T feels about all this, too. But from the last part of Doug Ferguson’s report it may be that only a little bit better policing is how to solve the problem:

Banning the policy isn’t an option. The tour is moving forward in the digital age with programs to enhance the gallery’s experience. Plus, the increase in attendance has been tangible this year. Nowadays, if fans can’t bring their phones, they’re more likely not to come at all.

The solution is to add security or volunteers to the two or three marquee pairings, and to take away phones from fans caught taking pictures (giving them a claim check to retrieve the phone at the end of the day). That’s what happened on Friday, and there were no big incidents the rest of the way.

UPDATE: It appears the commish is saying cell phones will stay, for now. Read this story over at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which tracked Finchem down at a Pro-Am and asked him about the controversy.

Get Ready for the PGA Cell Phone Backlash — After the Mickelson Memorial Incident

You don’t have to be a website called Mobile Sports Report to see this storm brewing: The reported bad cell-phone behavior that might have led to Phil Mickelson’s withdrawl from the Memorial Thursday is almost certain to cause a cell phone backlash from the PGA Tour.

Though phones didn’t used to be allowed at tour events — and special tourneys like the U.S. Open (run by the USGA) are pretty damn clear that you can’t even think of bringing a phone or a camera phone on the shuttle bus, much less at the course — many other tour stops are now allowing or even encouraging folks to bring their mobile devices. Check out what went on at the recent HP Byron Nelson tourney down in Texas, where some savvy social media folks turned the knobs up to 11, based on a lot of on-course fan-phone interaction.

Great for marketing. But is it good for the game? It’s clear the “talent” doesn’t think so. And they’re not going to stay quiet about it.

Phil himself is probably too nice and too media-savvy to come right out and say bad things about fans — patrons — whatever you call folks at a golf tournament — but new Masters champion Bubba Watson has no such restraining bolt, and told anyone who was listening that people taking pictures with cell phones was the main reason why Phil got Phed up (and shot his way to a 79).

I’m going to quote the entire report by AP’s Rusty Miller (which we found on the PGA’s site) because it highlights the big, bad point: Apparently a LOT of people were using their cell-phone cameras whenever they pleased, golfers backswings be damned:

DUBLIN, Ohio — Everyone has seen a golfer swivel and angrily stare at a news photographer who accidentally clicked a shutter during a swing.

Now imagine what it’s like when there are 10,000 or even 40,000 people on a golf course, all with cell phones that take pictures.

With a huge gallery following the marquee matchup of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson in Thursday’s first round of the Memorial, the continual distraction of fans with cell phones may have played a role in Mickelson’s withdrawal from the tournament.

“It took Phil out of his game,” Watson said of the continual clicks and snaps of cell phone-camera shutters. “Phil’s a great player and a great champion and it just took him out of his game. It’s sad. It’s sad that cell phones can make or break a championship.”

Mickelson said the reason he was going home in the wake of a frustrating round of 7-over 79 was because he was tired after a recent trip to Italy and France to celebrate wife Amy’s 40th birthday.

“There were a few phones out there,” Fowler said with a laugh. “There were a few times when we had to back off and reset. You could see Phil was a little fatigued and was having trouble blocking it out a bit.”

Mickelson made the turn at 1 over before struggling. Fowler shot a 71 and Watson, who won the Masters last month, had a 75.

Watson blamed a PGA Tour rule which permits fans to have cell phones on the course — if they are on vibrate and are only used in specified areas.

“Yeah, it was bad. But it’s been pretty bad ever since they made that rule,” Watson said. “When they make these marquee pairings, more people are going to follow them and more people want to take pictures. So it makes it very difficult. Ever since they made that rule that cell phones are allowed, it’s just not fun playing.”

Whoa. On one level you might be tempted to say, get a grip, Bubba. You (and Phil) are playing a game for millions of dollars of someone else’s money… and a cell phone noise is making your life miserable? I mean — baseball players have to hit a ball that is coming at them at 100 mph, not one that is lying still on the grass. And they don’t mind the noise. So… why should golfers have or expect complete silence, when they are playing in a very public arena?

Originally this was my argument on this matter — I think if you try to ban phones again you may end up with nobody at golf tournaments other than the Masters… and maybe the U.S. Open. But I think you also have to recognize tradition and what golf is all about. There’s a certain tranquility that most every golfer expects and loves when they are playing themselves. You don’t have to be Bubba to be pissed off at someone talking on a cell phone on a golf course. So in that sense Bubba is more like the rest of us than some pampered star. So I am admittedly confused now over whether I think the players have grown Colin Montgomerie ears, or whether your average fan is a self-important jerk like the people I see texting while they are driving on the freeway. Maybe, some of both.

Our favorite golf blogger/Tweeter Stephanie Wei was following up on this with cascaded Tweets and a good recap post — basically saying that for some reason there were just a lot of jerks on the phones Thursday. She also believed (like several other golf writers) that Mickelson’s withdrawl was done to make a point — that cell phones shouldn’t be allowed near the field of play. Phil is getting some roasting for his move — basically golf purists here, saying that you don’t WD because you are mad and playing poorly — but Wei makes a great point by saying that even at fan fiesta tourneys like the Waste Management in Phoenix the fans are smarter in how they use their phones. Anyone from Ohio who wants to weigh in here, feel free.

What I expect is that by sometime on Friday we will hear from the PGA loud and clear about how anyone seen using a cell phone in other than “designated areas” is going to be ushered off the grounds. And I’m not sure how I feel about that, other than that this is pretty obviously a clash of the magnitude of the topic as to why we started this site: Technology, especially mobile technology, is crashing into sports in ways nobody really imagined. How does it get solved? That’s the story for tomorrow, the day after, and the day after. Stay tuned on this bat channel, because we’ll be covering it. Maybe via our phones or tablets.

(Some of Stephanie’s Tweets embedded below)

Research In Motion takes wraps off Next Generation BlackBerry Platform

As Research In Motion struggles to retain relevancy in the smartphone market that it helped pioneer the company has started delivering a prototype version of its Blackberry 10 smartphone and development tools to developers at its BlackBerry World conference.

The company hopes that the device, along with the new tools for the development of apps for the platform will help revive its fortunes which have waned quite a bit in recent years that have included top management turnover and financial losses.

To help spur on development the company is promising that all of the developers at the conference will receive a prototype when the show is over. Better yet to developers the company has apparently promised that developers will receive $10,000 for top flight apps in their first year in the market.

The move to create a fuller ecosystem for the next generation smartphone is joined by an effort to fuel app growth in China along with subsidiary QNX Software Systems by encouraging university students to develop for both the smartphone and tablet platforms from the company.

The companies are launching a competition that will focus on apps developed in two categories-Mobility Lifestyle Use and Automotive Experience with the winners getting their apps made available at BlackBerry App World and receive internships at what it calls leading Chinese and multinational companies.

While BlackBerry execs claim that the new tools will developers to create apps that will wow the market, and that is exactly what it needs. With Apple still witnessing huge sales for its iPad and iPhone, Android growing strongly in the smartphone space and the pending Windows tablet and smartphone OS releases there is a lot of competition out there.

The company has already taken steps to hire a restructuring firm to examine it future, as it reported that it’s most recent quarter it lost $125 million as revenue dropped 19%. At that time the company said that it was going to increase its focus on the corporate market.