Mon 26 Jul
One of my favorite uses for my increasingly useful iPad is to keep current with The New York Yankees, an activity made possible — and enjoyable — with the outstanding MLB At Bat app. For baseball fans like myself who have canceled their cable service and therefore have little access to regular gameday broadcasts, paying just a fraction of the cost of a ballpark ticket once for an app that gives this kind of access for the full season is a bargain: it offers of course a full box score, an excellent complement of statistics, play-by-play summaries, radio simulcasting and, most importantly for me, a healthy trove of after-the-fact video.
My habit is to fire up MLB At Bat the morning after a game, having tried as best I can to avoid any news of the outcome, and then to watch the “condensed game” feature, an abridged video that edits down all of the essential plays of the game into a 15- or 20-minute recap. It’s probably true that the condensed game format confirms that worst accusation of baseball skeptics — that the sport is unreasonably poky and boring — but I prefer to think of it as a more thorough elaboration on the sort of mercilessly incomplete highlights reel most people see on Sports Center.
The only major complaint I have (of course I had to have one) is how difficult the MLB At Bat interface makes it to avoid finding out the final score before I get to watch the condensed game. By default, the app presents the box score upon launch, which makes the final score the most prominent bit of data on the whole screen. The only route to the condensed video is through this box score interface, by clicking on the “Highlights” tab, which unhelpfully sits directly above the score.
With a bit of agility, I can sometimes work around this unfortunate juxtaposition. I’ve resorted to physically tilting the iPad at such an extreme angle that the score is difficult to read while somehow finding the “Highlights” tab, and I’ve also covered up the offending parts of the interface with a sheet of paper. But I often accidentally catch glimpse of that final score nevertheless. A more elegant solution would be welcome.
Whether Major League Baseball feels this is a problem is another matter. As a device for the efficient consumption of MLB content, the iPad is so satisfying that I miss my cable television subscription — and paying fees that ultimately make their way back to the franchises and the league — even less than I did before. Though the app is a success, it doesn’t necessarily contribute to the longterm health of their business.
It’s often said that sports is one of the last remaining tent poles of broadcast television, that the live nature of its unfolding events can’t be substituted by time-delayed alternatives like file sharing and on-demand video. Sports probably saves millions of pay TV subscriptions a year, but in some ways, MLB At Bat neutralizes at least some of that value proposition. It’s so successful, it undercuts itself, which is the familiar quandary of sadly too many content creators.
On the other hand, here’s a counter-argument. In this year when I’m struggling with raising an infant child and preoccupied with figuring out my next means of employment, when my time and attention are more severely limited than ever, MLB At Bat may be helping to sustain an interest in the sport that might otherwise have faltered. Maybe MLB buys into that kind of reasoning, that any attention they can command is likely to be incremental, rather than decremental, in the long run. If that’s the case, it would be much appreciated if they could make it easier for me to avoid spoiling the final score of these games while I’m using their product.