It was mid-February, and we were jonesing for some baseball. At Bloomberg headquarters we got a close approximation. In 2010 Bloomberg decided to expand into the sports realm, offering a products for both consumers and professionals. To help spread the word, they held an all-day event to introduce their fantasy baseball and Pitch f/x analysis tools. As expected they both impressed. In 2011 Bloomberg was ready for a update, and again they invited Ben, Mike, and me, among many other blogging and media types, to their headquarters for another day of baseball in February. This time around, we got something out of it.
One feature they touted frequently was the implementation of their pro tool — the Pitch f/x analysis — on the iPad. They had developed an app that players could use at their lockers, at their hotels, or really any place when they had some free time. The app gave them not only information on hitters they would face, but also information on themselves. They could, for example, pull up a screen that would list every cutter they threw on the season. They’d not only see the Pitch f/x information on said pitch, but also videos of every instance. As you can imagine, the three of us salivated over the possibilities.
Of course, the app was not available to us. It was marketed to teams, and they paid top dollar for this level of analysis. Even if Bloomberg made it available to other entities, RAB clearly could not afford that type of application. But it did spark an idea. As we broke for lunch, Ben, Mike, and I huddled together to talk about how the tools they introduced — particularly the free fantasy ones — could help us at RAB. Only that’s not where the conversation went. Ben gets all the credit here, because he was the first one to blurt it out: “We should get iPads.” I wasn’t about to say no to that. Nor was Mike. And so, while in Arizona for Spring Training, we each picked up an iPad on launch day. I can’t speak for Mike or Ben, but it has changed the way I watch baseball.
By combining the MLB At Bat 11 app with my MLB.tv subscription, I’m able to watch any game, at any time, on my iPad. This works greatly when I’m already watching the Yankees game. It allows me to keep up with other games around the league at the same time. If Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw are going head-to-head at the same time a Yankees game is on, it’s no issue. Yankees on the TV, Dodgers-Giants on the iPad. Keeping up with the division rivals has been easier, too. In fact, MLB.tv on my iPad has essentially been my Red Sox tube. What better way to keep up with the rivalry than keeping tabs on the other side?
Beyond that, the At Bat app offers condensed games and tons of highlight clips, all of which load almost instantly. If I did miss a game, well, I didn’t really miss it. This works for the Yankees, too. I can jump right into the condensed game if I happened to miss it the night before. It takes just 15 minutes, and most of the action gets chronicled on the condensed game. Highlights, too, allowed me to keep up with the entire league and, for the first five months of the season, write my daily recap column on FanGraphs.
There is only one downside to all this, though: I want more ways to watch live Yankees games. Yes, this is an issue because of broadcast and rebroadcast rights. YES doesn’t want to lose TV viewers, because they then lose ad revenue. Since it’s more difficult to track people who are watching mobile devices, they clearly prefer I watch it through my cable subscription. But that doesn’t always play. See, the iPad is a portable device. It doesn’t just live in my living room. It goes to friends’ houses and on plane and train rides. And yet, unless I happen to be traveling outside of the Yankees broadcast area, I can have this big, beautiful tablet and no way to watch the Yankees on it.
There are some solutions. For instance, my cable provider, Cablevision, has an app that allows me to watch TV right on my iPad. Yet that’s still restrictive. It only works on my home WiFi network, meaning I can only watch those games at home. There are uses for that, of course; during day games I can just prop up my iPad and watch at my desk (which faces away from the TV) while I work. It also allows me to work a bit later in the evenings if necessary. But it doesn’t help me when at a friend’s house who doesn’t have cable. Really, it doesn’t help me watch the Yankees when I’m out of the house.
Recently I’ve been playing with the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet PC competitor to the iPad, as a review unit. While it’s not as pretty as the iPad, it does offer a number of advantages. For starters, it’s a ton smaller than the iPad, meaning it’s more portable. I can see toting this around town, on train rides, at coffee shops, etc. Yet there is no way to watch baseball on the PlayBook. The screen is great, and video, even streaming video, renders very well on its 7-inch screen. But there is no At Bat app, never mind one for my cable provider. That’s a bit disheartening.
There are clear conflicts here that prevent me from watching baseball wherever I want. YES has the exclusive rights to broadcast most Yankees games, and they need to make money. If they’re not making money off me watching on my tablet, they have little reason to allow that type of usage. At the same time, I already pay a hefty monthly cable and internet bill, and I’m not inclined to pay too much more for the same viewing privileges on different devices. Hence, consumers and broadcasters are at something of a stalemate. Nothing seems to make sense for both sides, and so we maintain the status quo.
It has become pretty clear that tablet computers will play a large part in our lives for the next few years. They provide entertainment in ways that other devices cannot. Yet, at the same time, given current broadcast regulations, it can be difficult to get the most out of these devices. The ability to watch the Yankees wherever I am makes a tablet that much more valuable. Hopefully these forces will move broadcasters closer to consumers and perhaps create offerings that allow us to watch the Yankees on our tablets while still in the YES home area. It’s really all I want for Christmas.