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Digital innovation rewards baseball

News, 15 February 2016

LONDON/NEW YORK: By embracing the digital revolution, Major League Baseball (MLB) has fundamentally changed the way the sport engages with its fans, a leading analyst has suggested.

Writing in the current issue of Admap, Aarif Morbi, a senior consultant at Interbrand, outlined a series of digital innovations that MLB has introduced, going all the way back to 2000 when the league launched MLB Advanced Media (BAM).

Backed with funding from all 30 teams, BAM has now developed into a full-service media entity, offering fans news, statistics, live streaming, radio broadcasts and more.

BAM launched mlb.tv, baseball's dedicated online streaming service, in 2002, but it achieved further success with its At Bat app for the iPhone, which was launched in 2009.

Now available on other platforms, the At Bat app includes live game tracking, videos and the streaming of games directly to mobile phones and is now the highest-grossing iOS app of all time, Morbi said.

It was downloaded 11 million times in 2014 alone while two billion live games were streamed to various devices over mlb.tv.

"With these initiatives, BAM became a pioneer in monetising streaming content and ensuring that fans who wanted access to their product were not denied," he said.

MLB has also been innovative with its use of data, Morbi added, as he pointed to the PITCHf/x system which used stadium cameras to build a database of highly accurate information about the movement and velocity of baseball pitches.

Even more advanced match data for information-loving fans came with Statcast, which could track pitch timing and even the spin rate of the ball.

In 2012, MLB introduced another way of engaging with fans. The At The Ballpark app provided users with a "customised ballpark experience", such as accessing maps, more team information and concession options. But the real value came with the ability to upgrade seats in real time, Morbi said.

"All of these recent initiatives prove how ahead of the curve MLB is in terms of using technology to drive fan engagement and safeguard the sport from declining interest," he added.

"BAM is now much more than just a digital operation for MLB. It has expertise and experience in the streaming space that is highly coveted. This will now pay off in a big way for MLB, beyond increasing fan engagement."

Data sourced from Admap