Settling Scores with MLB At Bat

MLB At BatOne 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.


The Mornings After

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.

MLB At Bat Box 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.

Successful Victims

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.

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  1. Ah, but you’re not using it for the paid service. You can subscribe to MLB.TV for about 20 bucks a month and watch out of market games live. Given this, another way to look at the app is as a gateway drug to the full package – which is stellar, and makes a lot of money for MLB – allowing people to ignore their cable but still pay for baseball.

  2. Ah, but Khoi lives in NY, where the Yankees are in-market, and thus, not availiable via MLB.tv, without a subscription to YES and a local cable provider, on top of the 20/month.

  3. While I have moderate praise for the MLB At Bat app, the same cannot be said for MLB.tv, nor the general effort MLB is putting into the long-term viability of either of these services. After one month of MLB.tv — in which I suffered numerous service drops, poor quality and the unmentioned blackout restrictions —аI immediately set out to cancel my account, which I discovered you are unable to do without emailing (!!) MLB’s customer service and requesting it manually. With all their Better Business Bureau complaints, I hesitate to recommend anything MLB is doing in the digital sphere. Until they take steps towards a drastic overhaul, they won’t be seeing a penny of my money. For anything.

  4. MLBAM has set the gold standard for milking their customers for every last dollar. The latest was the addition of paid advertising in this app, which I paid for on top of paying for MLB.tv. They’ve finally burned their bridge with me, I will get by with the free app or ESPN’s app next season.

    The iPad apps was a huge dissapointment to me at launch, and over time, the navigation hasn’t been refined enough to be considered anything but cobbled together.

  5. “The iPad apps” in the above post is a typo, and not an indication of my actual ability to write a coherent sentence. (That ability is low, but not that low.)

  6. Agreed.

    It’s the same on the PS3 version. Even if you start watching the game 30 min after it started you’ll have a hard time avoiding the score.

    The Boxee app has a nice no-spoiler option, but then it only works to watch full games. There are no highlights.

    Anyway, MLB is light-years ahead of any other professional sport/league in terms of interactivity and digital offerings.

  7. I love the app as well. My biggest complaint are the decades old black out rules. Technically, they are supposed to be there to make sure you still watch your market games on TV.

    The problem is that Las Vegas (where I live) is considered to be in 6 different home markets even though we don’t have a team of our own. (AZ, SF, OAK, SD, LA, LAA) And their games are rarely on Las Vegas TV.

    It’s brutal.

  8. “Anyway, MLB is light-years ahead of any other professional sport/league in terms of interactivity and digital offerings.”

    I’d say that NBA is right up there with them at this point, I’m guessing you aren’t as basketball fan. I can watch games on my computer and iPhone, and they announced iPad streaming too. Their iPad app was better designed than MLB’s, it just didn’t have live streaming yet. Their iPhone app had some stuff that MLB doesn’t have.

  9. The world cup was handled in an interesting way by espn/abc…watch online or on cable/network or review them later at our convenience (I still found myself using the dvr because of the ability to pause and ff) The best was watching live at work online, a tradition that I hope grows as it was a great way for the studio to build camaraderie and enjoy the hot summer days while working. Maybe baseball is more enjoyable in solidarity, and thus more marketable as a daily online commodity?

  10. I agree that the iPad app makes a great, cheap replacement for cable, and the free 20 min game summaries are fantastic.

    I have a different need for the app though: I’d like to watch the game on TV while occasionally using it to get advanced stats that the announcer neglected to give. I’m not sure how common a use case this is, but it’s definitely what I was hoping for.

    Because the iPad is easy, casual, and lives on my couch, it became the first computer I ever had with me while watching a baseball game. That was huge for me because a computer, unlike a broadcast, could allow each fan to customize their experience—it would allow me to finally get the advanced stats I wanted but that I understood not getting on TV (as most fans would rather not hear them).

    But, in this regard, the app completely fails. In fact, the only customization it has is a “Favorite Teams” setting. You want xFIP, GB%, wOBA, WAR, or anything else not in a typical box score? Forget it.

    Baseball has a lot of stat geeks like myself, and bringing a simple computer into the mix promised to provide (at least some) advanced stats in an “opt-in” way to these fans. But the MLB iPad app, although it’s great for other uses, unfortunately doesn’t deliver.

  11. Not much consolation for those like me who have no cable TV, but if you already get YES, you can stream Yankee games with no blackouts via some deal YES made with MLB: http://preview.tinyurl.com/36pq9mn

    It’s through MLB.tv, so I’m guessing it may also work with MLB At Bat on iPhone, iPad etc.

    Re blackouts overall, it is a really idiotic situation when I can’t pay $20 per month to watch the Yankees (with commercials!) just because I live in New York City. WTF?!

    Given that YES charges something like $3 per month per subscriber to the cable providers, YES and MLB can make out fine splitting $20, so I guess it’s the cable providers that are keeping the 1950s blackout nonsense alive and well in the 21st century. #cablefail

  12. It’s likely a small contingency, but I fall into the group of fans who prefer to listen to the live game while doing other things. MLB At Bat is the same price I used to pay for Gameday Audio and I’m not tied to a computer.

    All the other features it provides are just the cream on top.

  13. Besides being at the stadium, most people want to see their games live. Blackout restrictions will keep me from ever canceling cable. What sucks is that the streamed games still have commercials. Why would the TV stations or more importantly, the advertisers care what device you are watching the game on?

    Someone mentioned FIFA World Cup and streaming. That gets to the reason why it wont happen in baseball anytime soon. ESPN was the single entity that bought the rights for World Cup and streaming the games was a loss leader for them just to get you to ESPN.com Baseball teams each have their own deals with TV stations and most of those stations try to death grip the teams because it’s all they have (i.e. Fox Sports YourCity) to get cable providers to pay them.

  14. @jrock I do basically what you suggested, except with Fangraphs instead of ESPN. It’s ok, but more of a pain and less powerful than a native app would be.

  15. @Ethan – yeah i agree. i have a friend who works for mlb in manhattan. i’ll tell him to get on this :).

  16. I think it’s funny that fans of the moneyball team in NYC are actually bitching that they have to pay money to watch their overpaid players. Look, either pay the money YES is demanding or go to the stadium. I hear they have $5000 seats. Should be withing a NYer’s budget.