Fascinating Read: Fast Company Explores MLB.com’s Winning Strategy

If you want a primer on why we started Mobile Sports Report, the best explanation I’ve seen yet is embodied within a great story from Fast Company about how Major League Baseball’s advanced media team (BAM for short) got out ahead of the digital pack. Just about every part of this story shows why we think sports is headed online, and to mobile platforms, going forward. An incredible read.

In addition to explaining how BAM made its online offering MLB.com one of the breakout successes of online sports — according to the article it generates $620 million in revenue a year — the story exposes something Major League Baseball is trying to get in all its stadiums: Wi-Fi networks so that fans can watch video in their seats. And finally we are getting a good grasp on how much it costs to put in a network — according to the story, it’s about $3 million per stadium. Here’s a bit of the story that has the meat:

For instance, BAM is trying to assemble corporate partners to cover the costs, more than $3 million per team, to wire each ballpark for high-speed web access, so fans can check and download BAM’s apps to see video and make purchases.

There’s more great stuff in this well written synopsis of how MLB.com became an online success — it is required reading if you are in sports or sports marketing. And of course if you want continuing coverage of the news of stadium networking, well you are already in the right place if you are reading this story.

Hat tip to our pal Joe Favorito for tweeting about the story this morning.

MLB Fans Increasingly Watching Games via Mobile Devices

Major League Baseball opens its season next week with the Champion Saint Louis Cardinals helping the Miami Marlins christen the new ballpark that is opening down in Florida on Wednesday April 4th, followed the next day with six openers on Thursday and nine more openers on Friday.

Yet fans are already tuning in to games, with many of the Spring Training games being broadcast on the leagues MLB Network channel, if you are lucky enough to get it as well as many local stations. When the season opens this is a good place to get a quick look at all of the teams.

However there is a rapidly growing section of the fan base that is mobile and wants its games and information mobile as well and baseball is increasingly catering to these fans.

For the fifth consecutive year mobile users will also have the option of using MLB.com At Bat 12, giving users the ability to watch it not only on mobile devices but an increasing range of connected devices as well.

The release of the latest version, which coincided with the start of Spring Training, shows the increasing popularity of watching sports, and in this case baseball, on a variety of devices. The first weekend it was available there was 2.9 million downloads and users received 450,000 live audio and video streams, increases of 132% and 83% respectively over the first weekend of Spring Training games in 2011.

The app is available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, Kindle Fire, and BlackBerry users with a Windows 7 Phone version expected by Opening Day. It costs $14.99 and provides home and away radio broadcasts, pitch trackers, breaking news alerts and a range of additional features. The features are not standard, with some devices offering more than others.

Then there is also MLB.TV. It comes in two basic flavors, regular and premium. The regular version, which costs $19.99 a month or $109.99 a year allows users to watch games on their computer and features a set of DVR functions that allow a user rewind live game action. It also provides the ability to display games as PiP, split screen or mosaic.

The premium version brings much more to the table, starting with a free subscription to At Bat 12. It is supported on connected devices aside from the computer such as the Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, Roku, Apple TV, select Samsung and LG connected televisions and Blu-Ray players and it provides both home and away feeds as well as all of the features available in the basic version. The program costs $24.99 a month or $124.99 a year.

Baseball is doing a very good job of making the sport widely available and on wide variety of devices from television to smartphones. The fact that for less than $3 a month a user can listen to games, something that is much less demanding on a data plan than watching streaming video should draw fans. I have seen some reports that baseball’s hardcore fan base is getting older and I suspect that the expansion of the broadcast to these platforms will appeal to a younger set of fans.

Options Abound to Follow MLB Trades This Week

One of my favorite days in the baseball season will soon be upon us, as will my least favorite day, oddly they are the same, the first of the two trade deadline days. For those that are not quite clear on the deadline days there are two in baseball. The first, July 31, is for straight trades, player A for player B or money, or draft picks or some combination of these scenarios.

The second deadline, Aug. 31, has a caveat in it, you can trade a player but he must clear waivers first, meaning all teams have an option to pick him up before the deal goes through, with the worst getting first shot.
The reason for the mixed feelings is that sometimes teams I root for make great moves and naturally I like that, much as I enjoy it when teams I dislike make those “what were they thinking” moves. I have it when good players that look to be a good fit for my team get traded for I feel my team could afford to pay, and so on and so forth.

However if you are on the road and are seeking to follow all of the trades, or rumors of trades, it is good to be pre-loaded, so to speak, with all a range of sites that cater to this market segment, as well as to some of the old standbys. If you live in a city that has MLB, and follow that team, then the local newspaper’s on-line sports page is probably your first option.

However for most, the first up is ESPN, which will no doubt be awash with breathless rumors about potential trades as well as what has actually gone down. Then there is Major League Baseball’s own site, where you can go for confirmed trades as well. There are a host of others ranging from Yahoo!Sports to Sports Illustrated.

However there are specialty sites dedicated to this as well, sites such as MLB Trade Rumors, whose name leaves little to the imagination as to what its purpose is, and the name Pro Sports Daily says it all for another. There is one of the granddaddies of sites for fans looking for information on trades and player value, Rotoworld. Others such as Pro Sports Daily have a section dedicated to trades.

For after the fact discussions on trades, as well as a host of other baseball, and often non-baseball topics, look no further than BaseballThinkFactory, one of my favorite places for both on and off topic discussions.

MLB to allow players to Tweet during Home Run Derby

Major League Baseball’s All-Star week is upon us once again and as usual I have mixed feelings about the event. I much preferred it when I was younger and not because of any nostalgia about players wanting it more but rather in those days I never saw American League players except in the playoffs and All-Star game.

Overall, games of this sort do not interest me that much because they do not really mean anything, home field advantage in the playoffs notwithstanding. The same goes for other sports — I have never made it past the first quarter of the NFL’s All-Pro game.

Complaints aside baseball continues to advance what happens for the game, and while many are aware of the home run derby (more on that in a second) there are a number of other baseball related events. Yesterday there was the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball game, which I somehow missed.

Today is of course the State Farm Home Run Derby, but MLB has added a new twist that should make it interesting to follow, at least online. Players will be allowed to use social media i.e. Twitter and Facebook, to comment on events live.

I think this is very interesting as some of the players already have large followings and often have very interesting things to say. Now it is sanctioned by MLB. Included in the lineup is David Ortiz (@davidortiz),Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19) andMatt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp), Heath Bell (@HeathBell21), Gio Gonzalez (@GioGonzalez47), Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9), Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP), Gaby Sanchez (@GabySanchez215), Justin Upton (@RealJustinUpton), C.J. Wilson (@str8edgeracer), Howie Kendrick (@HKendrick47) and Joel Hanrahan (@hanrahan4457).

In addition, but of less interest to me at least, is that there are now League captains with National League captain Prince Fielder choosing Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp and Rickie Weeks for his team, and American League captain David Ortiz choosing Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez for his team. The two ‘leagues’ will face off against each other and there will be an individual overall winner as well from the contest.

Online Voting Allows for Informed Selections in MLB All-Star Game

The Major League Baseball All-Star game is just around the corner, with voting ending today for the July 12 event, so as they used to say in Chicago, vote early and vote often! The game will be broadcast on FOX and is being played at Chase Field in Phoenix.

It is interesting how the Internet and the online community has changed the way in which people vote and actually provides them with the ability to make better informed selections, if they are so inclined and they can influence the MVP vote as well.

The baseball All-Star game has always held an interesting position, especially in my early sporting life [editor’s note: does that include the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig years?]. Going to ball games we always sought out the ushers who were the guardians of the ballot to see how many we could nab. After being given the once over by the usher at the top of our section the person would reluctantly hand a few of the paper ballots to use, no doubt convinced that none of them would ever get used.

We would diligently vote, disappointed that you could not easily punch out multiple ballets at once. We all had different strategies. I voted for the best in both leagues, at least initially. One of my friends would only vote for players on his favorite team and for the other league he voted for the players that we perceived were the worst at their position, with all of us arguing as to which ones they were. After a few full ballots we would inevitably drop the rest around our seats as we lost interest, no doubt confirming the ushers’ opinion of us.

On-line voting has changed all that. While there have been some hiccups over the years, including rumored ballot stuffing, it is not only easier, but MLB has taken steps so that you can make values judgments. Voting for NL players and you only follow the AL? All you need to do is select multiple players, say DeWitt from the Cubs and Emaus from the Mets and you can see which second baseman has the better stats in a number of different categories. Just click on “Compare Stats” and a menu scrolls down showing a number of counting stats including Avg., runs, home runs and runs batted in. If none of the choices appeal to you there is space to add write-ins at the bottom of the ballot. Fans vote for the starting lineup, minus pitchers, and then after the Manager fills out the rest of the positions, an Internet vote is taken for the last man on each squad.

You can vote 25 times, which while significantly lower than that which I witnessed by a group of A’s fans who had built boards with needles built-in to punch out entire ballots and were doing dozens at a time, that seems like plenty to me. If you use your phone I am sure you can double your votes. Fans will not just have a say regarding who is on the team but can also vote for the r choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. (Nice that they get two sponsors for one award)

I imagine traditions still die slowly and fans of rival teams will have a difficult time voting for players from teams they dislike getting on the team and for the MVP award, and I thin that is just the way that it should be.

Pad Sales Look to Bloom in the Future, Thanks to Sports

So you are debating purchasing a pad, but are concerned with getting burned if it turns out to be a fad. In the past tablets have had a less than stellar history, with a number of major flops after the prerequisite hype predicted them as the wave of the future. So will this time be any different?

The availability of mobile sports, of course, may tip the balance toward the the tablet this time around. Watching a sporting event on a smartphone is nice but it leaves something to be desired — image size for instance. A growing number of sports outlets including Major League Baseball and ESPN offer live content that is optimized for a pad.

This is not just the past revisited in the pad or tablet space. In the past there was little in the way of operating systems optimized for the form factor, so software developers saw no reason to write for the various platforms. And the chips just did not have the power needed to provide the level of processing capabilities needed to drive acceptable video or animation. This is no longer true and you can thank the previous generations of smartphones for paving the way.

Apple’s iPad will be the leader of the pack in the near term

Market research firm Gartner http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1626414 has some pretty bold predictions about this field including that Apple’s iPad will dominate until at least 2015, holding off a strong push by Android developers. This is the reverse of its prediction in the smartphone field where the research company says that Android-based smartphones will dominate by the end of this year.

Overall numbers are expected to grow from approximately 69.8 million units sold worldwide this year to 250 million by 2015. Apple’s share of that is expected to be strong, but decline every year, dropping from an estimated 63.5% market share this year to 47.1% in 2015 while Android will grow from 24.4% now to 38.6% in 2015. The overall richness of the ecosystem such as a host of developers and on the Android side a number of different hardware developers will be major contributors to this growth.

If you are a fan of other operating systems such as Blackberry’s QNX, you are pretty much out of luck in the near term as it will be wallowing in the single digit market share space, along with Hewlett-Packard’s WebOS, which it gained in the Palm acquisition or the open source Linux offering MeeGo. What the smaller market means is less developer interest, so probably fewer new apps or services tailored for those types of pads.

With the growth of these platforms expect more tie-ins with both live TV broadcasts and customized information for pad users as sports franchises, leagues and broadcasters seek to exploit this emerging space.