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#15YearsOfBaseballTech

#15YearsOfBaseballTech
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Baltimore’s favorite sons the Orioles (Planit’s co-sponsors of the color orange), are in the MLB playoffs for the first time in 15 years. FIFTEEN. The last time they were here, Bill Clinton was rounding out his first term in office and Mike Tyson was rounding out Evander Holyfield’s ear with his teeth. “Titanic” was making young girls swoon over Leo at the box office (but not on DVD, because those still hadn’t overtaken cool VHS tapes yet), and “Return of the Mack” was one of the top songs of the year (and arguably of all time).

Think about how technology has changed something so simple and traditional like the game of baseball in those 15 years. Back then, there was a little thing called the Internet—and it was little—but no Google, Facebook, or YouTube. Twitter wouldn’t arrive for almost a decade. In a town where most people forgot about baseball long ago, I find myself suddenly a huge fan again, probably in no small part thanks to the role of technology. Now I watch #postseason baseball with a wireless computer on my lap while fiber-optic cable high-defs up my 44” TV in the background. I can get real-time stats, injury updates, and commentary more newsworthy than the TV broadcast by monitoring tweets from a variety of sources both professional and not so professional. And if I wanted to, I could turn both of these devices off and watch the whole thing from my phone or join the playful competition happening over at the TBS Social Dugout app.

baltimore-orioles-cartoon-logo-2012

The other night at the stadium, the stands were aglow with an army of texting, browsing, pinching, and swiping zombies who were sometimes more mesmerized by their phones than by the actual game on the field. I geeked out as follows:

Checked the rain delay with a real-time Doppler radar app Tracked down buddies via instant messenger Shot high-res photos Posted HD video of the game-winning pitch immediately to my Facebook pageall from a 4” phone

System overload

The volume of connections was so high among the nearly 50,000 fans at the game that the Orioles weren’t really ready for it with necessary wireless tower infrastructure to sustain all the activity throughout the game. (Probably a symptom of not having been in this position for 15 years.) With this mass technofication of the sport, it’s no wonder MLB.com said Game 3’s hero Raul Ibanez’s game-tying homerun in the ninth inning prompted “38,549 social media comments in the five minutes after the ball touched down in Section 103 at Yankee Stadium.”

And that’s not saying anything about the guys on the field. They were permitted to tweet during the MLB All-Star game this year, helping them connect to their fan base and extend the popularity of their sport, enabling each player to become his own personal marketing engine. They’re now outfitted with iPads to watch game “film” and size up the competition’s percentages. Stats have long been a big part of baseball, but now the sheer amount of data available and the way it can be processed, analyzed, and visualized—like what our own Planiteer Jeff Long has begun to do with the O’s on his blog—have changed the game in significant ways. America’s pastime, with history going back to the early 18th century, has gone from pure entertainment to a game fueled by, and surely altered by, statistical analysis, mountains of metrics, and even players chatting with fans online.

Baseball purists may think this explosion of technology in their sport is the beginning of its demise. Maybe there’s a parallel to advertising, where print ads and direct mail are being supplanted by mobile apps, social integration, and e-commerce. But the technology isn’t going away, so it’s best to embrace it and discover how your business can be even better with it. Technology is going to keep changing how baseball is learned, played, watched, enjoyed, shared, and maybe even called. 

I say “called” because one key part of the game that hasn’t changed in those long, arduous 15 years between Orioles playoff appearances is the umpiring. Baseball still relies on a single umpire to determine the strike zone and assess every pitch in the game. No offense to these umps, but computers are faster, more precise, and more reliable than they are. Even tennis at Wimbledon, that most proper of sporting venues, has a laser beam to ensure accuracy of line calls. Maybe 15 years from now, when the Orioles have had a string of World Series wins, umps will be supported by technology. Of course, if we reduced the role of the ump, then what would anyone post/blog/like/text/#agonize about?