For all but four teams, another season is in the books. Most of us probably consumed the season through a cable subscription. Some prefer radio. Others, like myself, don’t live in a market where watching or listening to Cardinals baseball is an option. For us, we turn to MLB.tv. With a subscription you can watch any live out-of-market MLB game, as well as any in-market archived game.
Consumers don’t really have a choice. Either you’re out of market and you use MLB.tv or you’re in-market and your only option is subscribing to something that gets you Fox Sports Midwest.
However, I do prefer MLB.tv to cable. That’s because the internet simply provides a more dynamic platform. You have more options to customize your experience than simply watching a static broadcast.
MLB.tv takes advantage of this to a degree. However, I think they could do way more. I understand why they don’t: there just isn’t that much incentive. There isn’t a competing product by which fans can otherwise watch out-of-market MLB games. And because you can’t watch live in-market games, there’s no reason for MLB.tv to try to differentiate itself from a static broadcast. MLB.tv exists to give fans who don’t have a cable package
That doesn’t mean one can’t dream though. Here’s some things I wish were options for enhancing your MLB.tv experience:
An easily searchable database of every plate appearance
One handy feature MLB.tv does have is a clickable line score. Click or tap on whatever half inning you want, and it takes you right to it. But you know what would be better? A clickable scorecard. I linked to a picture of a scorecard because I’m not entirely sure how much these are used anymore. It would be similar in concept to the clickable scoreline: click on plate appearance, and it sends you right there.
It doesn’t only have to be game-specific though. Every player should have a page that provides a stream of relevant video. A stream of every hitter’s plate appearance. Of every pitcher’s batter faced. Every ball in play that a defender was involved in. Every time a runner attempts a steal, or has the chance to take an extra base.
We could also do with a filter with various options: just plate appearances vs. lefties, just strikeouts, just balls in play. Using Statcast, you could filter for just batted balls between certain launch angles, or for batted balls over a certain Exit Velocity threshold. You could sort an outfielder’s defensive chances by what star rating he would have received for catching it.
You could even break it down by pitch. A stream of every Michael Wacha change-up, sorted by spin rate. A stream of every 1-2 slider to Randal Grichuk. Or just sliders located low or outside off the plate.
All of these things would bring more eyeballs to MLB baseball games, even it wasn’t live. Of course, MLB.com has a searchable video database, but that’s just highlights, which mostly consist of plays where a run scores.
Integrate with music apps
Not every fan of baseball is a fan of the broadcast booth. I’m certainly guilty of getting annoyed with what the broadcaster’s choose to focus on from time to time. Yeah, you could just put the game on mute, but I like to hear the sounds of the ballpark. In fact sometimes something goes wrong loading the game and my Roku only loads the sounds of the ballpark without the broadcast booth, and it’s pretty nice.
Not only would making that an actual feature be nice, I’d also like them to take it a step further and partner with iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and the other streaming music options and provide an option to replace the broadcast booth with your favorite music app. That would require MLB.tv to just get better at streaming, because I have enough trouble trying to get a smooth feed of a live game without adding that to the equation. Implement it right though, and that would add to my experience as a user, and I’m sure others.
Upgrade the mobile experience
MLB.tv is consumed on smart phones and tablets through the MLB at-bat app. On one hand, it’s rather amazing: With a few taps, you can bring a live out-of-market game (or any archived game) to your fingertips anywhere your device can get the internet.
On the other hand, it’s still a trying experience. The clickable line score isn’t utilized on mobile (or if it is I can’t find it), and one of the only other ways to go to different parts of the game is to drag a slider right or left to go backwards or forwards through the game. There’s no precision to it, making navigating to different parts of the game difficult.
You might think that’s not that bad, if you’re watching a live game you don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. But if your connection lags at all, you’ll probably want to go back to see what you missed. There’s also options to skip 30 seconds ahead and behind, and that helps when there’s only a minute or two between where you are and where you want to be. Other than that though, any navigation is rough.
End the blackouts
All the other options can be realistically implemented. This bucks that trend. For me specifically this isn’t a big deal. I only don’t get to watch games picked up by ESPN and the seven games a year vs. the Rockies. Those unfortunately don’t overlap, but I went to two of those games this year anyway.
Right now, regional sports networks pay hefty prices for the exclusive rights to broadcast a team’s games in a certain area. They do that because they can then turn around and go to the cable companies with the leverage of being the only option for consumers to watch that team.
That’s important to cable companies because it helps prop up the old model of huge cable packages. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, the only thing cable companies have over the cord-cutting options are live, in-market sports. And that’s not completely true, with Sling TV packages being a cheap alternative to cable. I’ve actually been waiting the last couple seasons to subscribe to Sling when the Cards get to the playoffs, as those games are blacked out on MLB.tv too. Maybe I’ll get a chance to try it out in 2018.
Blackouts probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s the main reason for the growth of revenue over the last half-decade. I dream of an MLB-watching experience unencumbered from a cable package that is accessible for all though, and for that, blackouts must go.
Anyhow, don’t take this the wrong way: I don’t dislike MLB.tv. These are suggestions on how to make it more awesome. Anyone that disagrees that it’s awesome should check out this Louis C.K. bit. Hopefully enough of you here subscribe to MLB.tv to make this an interesting read.
With that, I turn the discussion over to you: what features would you like to see MLB.tv implement?