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YouTube’s Live-Streaming Potential for Sports is Growing

After representing Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films, New Zealand is once again the epicenter for fantasy and hopes sprung to life. Yesterday, YouTube secured broadcasting rights to the Bundesliga and will begin showing its soccer matches on Friday in real time from Germany. Time zone differences will be awfully tough on the Kiwis as a 2:30 Friday afternoon game goes live at 12:30 am in New Zealand. Ruined sleep patterns aside, merely seeing Google take live streaming so seriously could open up a new competition for sports broadcasting rights.

The Latest_Bundesliga Twitter account was among the first to break the cord cutter friendly news:

Sports Business Daily (subscription required) noted YouTube — and by extension Google — is also allowed to show additional games and highlights from the league, but as replays and not live.

YouTube previously streamed the opening match of Bundesliga season here in the United States, a matchup between three-time reigning champ Bayern Munich and Hamburg last Friday. With Fox Soccer owning the broadcast rights here, the game was streamed via their soccer page.

It’s hard to imagine YouTube not being interesting in the broadcast world, as they’ve been in the live streaming business for some time now, really kicking things off with their stream of the 2012 London Olympics. With events ranging from traditional sports to extreme and esports, as well as general content creators also getting in on the live broadcast game, YouTube already has a massive user base, huge infrastructure behind it, as well as name recognition and familiarity.

Further emphasis has been placed on YT’s trend of embracing esports as they streamed Dota 2’s largest yearly tournament, The International 5. At TI5, 16 qualified teams from around the world competed for a prize pool of over $18.4 million, with more than $6.6 million going to the winning team. Factor in the soon to be released YouTube Gaming platform, an aptly named area specifically for the broadcast of esports, speed runs, Let’s plays and more, clearly Google has taken a keen interest in bringing live content to people. Google securing the rights in New Zealand with their ~5 million residents could be a guinea pig or stepping stone of sorts for bigger things on the horizon here in the US. According to their second quarter 2015 report, Google increased revenue to $17.7 billion and revenue growth of 11 percent year-over-year. Ruth Porat, Google CFO commented on the revenue, specifically noting YouTube, said:

Our strong Q2 results reflect continued growth across the breadth of our products, most notably core search, where mobile stood out, as well as YouTube and programmatic advertising. We are focused every day on developing big new opportunities across a wide range of businesses. We will do so with great care regarding resource allocation.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to distinctly separate YouTube’s revenue stream from Google’s numerous other ventures, however it isn’t hard to imagine YouTube comparing similarly to traditional networks. Given that other broadcasting network reports don’t separate their revenue streams channel by channel, these numbers for sports networks should be taken with a grain of salt. CBS’s Q2 2015 report disclosed a $3.2 billion, increasing 1 percent compared to last year. Disney, owners of sports giants ESPN and ABC amongst other channels, reported Q2 earnings at $2.1 billion this season. Time Warner, controllers of TNT, and TBS et al. posted $7.3 billion, up 8 percent compared to 2014.

With plenty of money, a desired market for more streamed sports and clear goals moving towards streaming live broadcasts, Google and YouTube could once again transform the way the every person consumes their favorite sports, news and other media.

GameOn Releases Sports Social Networking App

In a continued effort to personalize and curate the world of sports to each person’s preference, the GameOn app — developed by GameOn Technologies — recently secured funding for additional expansion across the iOS and Android platforms. Among the backers who helped raise 1.5 million dollars was Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana as well as West Indian cricket player Dwayne Bravo. In addition to Montana and Brave a number of other athletes have signed on to give exclusive content — ranging from USWNT striker Sydney Leroux, former USMNT midfielder Cobi Jones and current Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward.

The app itself ties news feeds from other sources in one convenient place called The Five. Think of The Five like an aggregator or RSS for all sports.


From browsing GameOn — drawing articles and tweets ESPN, Grantland, SB Nation, BBC, CBS Sports and others, — there is plenty of reading material for the major sports teams. Unfortunately there is not a way to customize what appears on The Five, it seems to pick whichever articles or tweets are currently getting the most attention. The good news is just about anything else can be tweaked to show which teams you’d like to follow.

It’s a personal preference, but when opening a story from The Five, it does not give the option to open in Chrome — I don’t have an iOS device to see if Safari was an option — as tapping a link simply opens up the story within GameOn. It isn’t a hindrance or particularly inconvenient, I just like opening links in new tabs and windows. Call it a hangover effect from years of opening links in Chrome with my Mouse3 button.

In addition to specific teams and featured articles, there are individual “Featured Public Huddles” where fans can join and debate with each other, related links are posted, and a host of emoji-like stickers can be used.

For an example of a what can only be assumed to be a clearly unbiased opinion, user Cristiano The Beaut (presumably named for Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo) calls Lionel Messi a “dirty and overrated player.” I’d recommend a spoon to take all those grains of salt with that opinion.


Huddles is just the name GameOn gives team or game threads, and in addition to the public “Featured” ones, any user can create private Huddles as well.

As I find myself more and more interested in following the German soccer league, the Bundesliga, I decided to create a pair of Huddles for their upcoming fixtures against Hoffenheim and Hannover. From my phonebook or friends within the GameOn app, I can invite people to join in the Huddle.


The stickers — there are hundreds if not thousands of them — are a unique feature and I really like the multi-site integration and aggregate feed. But really, the stickers are awesome.


Even with the fun and smack-talk-integration the stickers offer, GameOn really doesn’t differentiate itself from other sports apps, specifically Fancred. Additionally, Twitter’s influence on the sports social network scene, despite not being marketed as a sports-centric app, looks as strong as ever given numbers from their second quarter of this year. According to the financial report, Twitter increased their average active monthly user base from 308 million in Q2 2014 to 316 million Q2 2015. GameOn has a solid beginning, however with a modest 50,000 or so downloads in its first year of Beta testing, it has a long way to go to reach the top of the sports social network world.

Bundesliga Gaining Traction in Attendance and Streaming Services

Things are on the rise in the top German soccer league, the Bundesliga. Not just the level of play, but the depth of teams as well as popularity have been trending upwards for several years now. The Union of European Football Association (UEFA) noticed the league’s rising talent as well, increasing their bids to the UEFA Champions League — the highest level of international club play in Europe — to three automatic slots plus one playoff bid.

With local fans already showing up to more Bundesliga games in person more than any other sport save for the NFL in the world, it’s hard to understate the league’s current impact and potential growth. Via Statista, the graph below displays the 2013-14 average game attendance for the 11 top ranking leagues.


Not even the English Premier League juggernauts of Manchester United, Arsenal Man City or Liverpool nor Spanish La Liga one-two punch of Barcelona and Real Madrid could draw more fans than the Bundesliga’s top draw in the 2013-14 season. Somewhat surprising, Borussia (there is a typo in the table below) leads all soccer clubs in Europe for attendance.


Beyond local fans and UEFA, Fox Soccer has also taken note of the German league. The broadcasting network already streamed some Bundesliga fixtures on the Fox Soccer 2Go platform, but never all 306 matches. In addition to streaming every single league match, Fox has doubled down on the league by adding televised games as well. A total of 58 matches will be shown on TV on the Fox Sports 1, 60 on Fox Sports 2 and the final 188 games being shown on Fox Sports Plus.

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has also seen an increased presence in Germany as six active members are currently on Bundesliga squads, with three more US players currently on clubs rating in Germany’s second tier. The German league is has the most US players in foreign leagues, barely edging out the Championship, England’s second tier, and trailing only Mexico’s Liga MX that boasts seven US capped players.

According to the Fox Soccer schedule, the opening match will be three time reigning champion Bayern Munich against the near-relegated Hamburg side. The match is set to be broadcasted on Fox Sports 2 at 2:30 pm eastern on Friday, August 14. While up-and-coming 20-year-old USMNT member Julian Green is under contract with Bayern until 2017, it’s possible, albeit unlikely, he could make an appearances and further boost the Bundesliga’s profile in the United States. If you happen to be busy on that Friday, tune in the next day as Werder Bremen just signed USMNT striker Aron Johannssen. Werder is set to kick off at 9:30 eastern on Saturday the 15th. While causation does not determine correlation, the United States has seen the the profile of the national men’s team rise in recent years, possibly due to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan all crossing the ocean to play in the Premier League. Hopefully a similar level of fan interest will happen with the Bundesliga.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

Independent Baseball’s Newest Umpire Isn’t Human

A simple Twitter search of #RobotUmpsNow or #UmpShow will show fans have been clamoring for an electronic umpire for the strike zone — among other things — for some time. While major league baseball isn’t quite ready to make that jump just yet — nor are any affiliated minor league clubs — there is one hero ball club we can turn to. The vaunted San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Associate of Professional Baseball are set to debut a strictly PITCHf/x umpire for tonight’s and tomorrow’s game.

SportsVision, creators and owners of PITCHf/x, are working alongside the Pacifics in handing off the task of calling balls and strikes to the system, though former major league player Eric Byrnes will be on hand for assistance should either team object to the system’s judgement. The two-game affair is designed to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation and for each called ball or strikeout, Byrnes will donate $100 to the foundation. If either coach disagrees with the strike zone, Byrnes has the option to eject a player or manager, and in doing so would then donate $10,000 to the foundation for each person tossed from the game.

Given PITCHf/x’s enormous popularity among statistically-inclined baseball fans — including but not limited to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Heat Maps, Texas Leaguers and Baseball Savant — seeing progression towards a computerized  strike zone, even in a charitable role, is amazing. The three camera system on hand for the Pacifics is set to capture a triangulated zone, and since three cameras are better than two eyes, we’ll see an automated strike zone for the first time in organized baseball.

The need for an automated zone is pretty clear, especially when we have the technology to review missed calls in near real time. For example look no further than Jeff Sullivan’s posts on The Worst Called Strike/Ball of the First Half, or more recently, let’s observe one of Sunday’s games. Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians started the game, and according the PITCHf/x system over at Texas Leaguers, he may have been robbed of a handful of calls at a very important point in the game.


It looks as though three pitches touched the strike zone that were called a ball with an additional trio of pitches in the zone that were called balls. It’s hard to boil down a game to a single pitch, however one pitch can be the difference between walking back to the dugout after the third out or being lifted with two outs and runners on. The latter situation actually happened, and thanks to MLB’s Gameday, we can see the events unfold.


Salazar gets ahead of Tyler Saladino 0-1 before the second and third pitches, both appearing to be in the strike zone get called balls. Salazar does well to even things a 2-2, however he probably should have been out of the inning with the score still tied at one apiece. The calls don’t go his way and Zach McAllister comes on to relieve Salazar, who was at 113 pitches, and promptly gave up the tying run. Again, it’s one pitch, but it was arguably the sequence of events that decided the game.

The Indians and the White Sox are both likely outside of the playoff picture at this point, however that shouldn’t be the focus. Given that we have the technology to get the calls correct, it’s awfully disappointing to only see Independent baseball willing to go with an automated system. As Ken Jennings once wrote, I for one, welcome our new computer overlords.

(Header image via the Pacifics’ website)

Is Yahoo! Daily Fantasy the Third Wheel?

The two titans of daily fantasy sports (DFS), DraftKings and FanDuel, have new competition. Recently, Yahoo! has joined the daily fantasy goings on in addition to their traditional fantasy sports leagues. The market growth of DFS sites has taken off on a meteoric rise, and according to Forbes there was an 847 percent rise in participation from September 2013 to September 2014. As the newest option in a popular area, Yahoo!’s approach is slightly different than both DraftKings or FanDuel.

Right off the bat, the aesthetics of Yahoo! appears similar to FanDuel. From left to right, we have the Yahoo!, FanDuel and DrafKings interfaces (click to embiggen).


Beyond the layout, Yahoo! has seemingly drawn influence from both FanDuel and DraftKings for the gameplay itself. Just like in DK, Yahoo! allows users to draft up to 10 players rather than the nine of FD, the difference being two pitchers in the former and one in the latter. Despite the identical rosters to DK, Yahoo!’s player prices are much different than anything we’ve seen before.

Rather than use the $50,000 or $35,000 salary allotment of DraftKings and FanDuel respectively, Yahoo! has a $200 scaled budget. As a percentage, the prices aren’t terribly different, but I found myself having a surprisingly difficult time adjusting. Of course, the prices are different because the scoring is different as well.

With the same left to right as before, the following picture shows the scoring differences between the three sites.


Where both FanDuel and DraftKings have negative stats for batters — -0.25 points for any out on FD or -2 points for a caught stealing on DK — Yahoo! doesn’t have a way of punishing poor batting or base running performances. Pitching statistics are even more varied as wins are very heavily valued in Yahoo! at eight points compared to four points for DK and FD. Yahoo!’s only negative pitching category is giving up earned runs, same as FanDuel, to the tune of -1 point per earned run surrendered. For example, let’s say a pitcher costs 20 percent of your budget in any of the three site ($40 in Y!,$ 7,000 in FD and $10,000 in DK) . He records a win after going seven innings, gives up two runs on a pair of solo shots, plus two other hits, two walks and strikes out seven batters, his point totals for each site are:

Yahoo!: 30.6 points
FanDuel: 16 points
DraftKings: 23.35 points

Thanks to the numerous negative pitching stats in DratfKings (hits and walks in this example specifically), you get hands down the least bang for your buck with pitchers compared to FanDuel and Yahoo!. The latter in particular places a massive emphasis on wins at eight points. Such huge upside in pitches in Yahoo! with minimal downside — no negative points for any hitter outcomes and only being penalized on pitcher earned runs — makes stacking your Yahoo! lineup with the best pitchers in line for the win is hands down the best option. This isn’t a flaw, a strength or a weakness on Yahoo!’s behalf, but it is certainly something to exploit.

The biggest issue I have with Yahoo!’s current layout is the lack of weather information for each game. DraftKings at least displays weather info at the top of the screen when you enter a contest.


FanDuel leads the way with a full weather forecast for each game, including chance of rain by percentage and if the game will be played in an open stadium, retractable roof or dome.


I’d always recommend cross checking the weather for the games as in any DFS format it hurts to lose a batter to a rain out and losing a starting pitcher is like throwing money away. Adding in weather seems like something fairly easy, as Yahoo! already has an entire page dedicated to weather around the world.

Beyond the weather related issues, Yahoo! has a bigger concern when it comes to attracting players to its new daily fantasy area. During its launch, Yahoo! promised a $22,000 prize pool, guaranteed even if the contest wasn’t filled. At a $1 minimum entry for the 10,000 player league, it sounded like a good way to gather new DFS players. Unfortunately the wording tripped up many players and saw the $22,000 guaranteed prize pool would be split up if the contest wasn’t filled, and not the way Yahoo! broke it down. The way $22,000 was guaranteed was awarding $2 to the 29th-10,0000 place finishers. So, if it the contest was full, then yes, the full $22,000 would have been handed out. Unfortunately calling a prize pool $22,000 and then not delivering the full amount flies in the face of every other DFS league or entry I’ve ever entered.

For now I’ll stick with DraftKings or to a lesser extend FanDuel to fulfill my DFS cravings. I know they pay out what is advertised, I’m familiar with the scoring, and having to open one less tab for immediate weather reports makes it convenient.

Esports Players turn to Adderall for Competitive Edge

Over the previous weekend the 2015 Electronic Sports World Cup Counter-Strike: Global Offensive finals took place in Montreal. Multiple countries were represented and competed for the $75,000 prize pool, with $30,000 going the champions. Aside from technical setbacks, other controversy arose due usage of Adderall as well as in-game communication advantages. In a bit of a surprise, North American team Cloud9 won their group and advanced to the finals, though former Cloud9 member Kory “Semphis” Friesen gave a candid interview with Mohan “Launders” Govindasamy where Friesen said how common it is to find Adderall usage. In a separate interview, current Cloud9 member Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir had strong comments regarding other teams listening in to the Cloud9 in-game strategies.

Transcribing and editing the interview, Friesen said the following:

Friesen: Ha, I don’t even care. We were all on Adderall. Like, I don’t give a [expletive]. Like, it was pretty obvious if you listen to the comms. People can hate it or whatever, but.

Govindasamy: So everyone does Adderall on ESEA LAN, right?

Friesen: Yeah.

Govindasamy: Just throwing that out there, so you’re good.

As someone who has played Counter-Strike (and other games) in a relatively high level for a number of years — as well as someone who has taken their fair share of Adderall, this topic hits pretty close to certain times back in my younger days. While dealing with working part-time or going to school, plus a practice schedule that took up at least two hours per day, it was clear that time was in short supply. A teammate at the time suggested I go for an Adderall subscription. However, living in a college town I soon found out that it wasn’t that easy to get my hands on the pills without my own prescription.

The effects of being on Adderall didn’t seem big like much at first, but then about four hours passed and I hadn’t really noticed. It really did help me focus — almost to the point of tunnel vision — and in the context of esports, managing your tasks and focusing on the matters at hand is critical. For example, at big LAN event or venue, it’s a really loud atmosphere. With your in-game sounds turned up to hear every footstep, your teammates calling strategies, the announcers shouting and the crowd going bonkers, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted. In fact, recent controversy arose over communication. In somewhat recent events, more and more tournaments have been tapping into team’s in-game communications with so called Point-of-View streams, showing gameplay alongside the team’s comms.

Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir said in an interview how it’s unfair to English speaking teams. To quote Abadir:

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on it [POVs]?

Abadir: I think it’s great honestly. I love POVs, but, if you’re releasing it [live] and we can’t speak their language, then, how can we use it to our advantage when they [opposing teams] can use it [POVs] to their advantage? So release it after we’re done playing.

ESWC had teams from Ukraine, Sweden, Germany, France, China, Brazil, South Africa and Australia, along with Canada and the United States, so a multitude of languages could be found. Abadir’s interview was actually in regards to the previous weekend’s Electronic Sports League tournament, but that also boasted an international lineup where French, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Portuguese and of course English were spoken. League of Legends releases post-match communication highlights, and tends to be careful to limit the amount of strategy given away at any time.

Is the ability to listen in on other teams’ communications cheating? Is it unfair for players to be taking Adderall? There are some fuzzy lines being skirted by major esports brands. Without pressure from sponsors or an overarching governing body, it doesn’t seem like any significant policy change will be in place for Adderall usage or POV streams. Despite the rapidly rising popularity, esports still have a long way to go when it comes to rules and regulations.

(Header image via ESWC)

Brentford FC’s Stats-Friendly Owner

Brentford FC has been making waves in the ocean of soccer nerds over the past several seasons, most notably due to their owner — Matthew Benham — being a leading advocate for mathematical modeling in soccer. Benham is a nerd after my own heart, a man who studied at Oxford and eventually created his own betting company, Smartodds. Prior to Benham’s purchasing the team after the 2011-12 season, Brentford had been a third tier league, finishing in the middle of the pack of League One, two levels of competition below the English Premier League.

Since taking over ownership duties, Benham has influenced the club’s overall philosophy with his statistical stylings, including publicly acknowledging a head coaching change was partly due to philosophical differences. The coach in question, Mark Warburton, was at the helm as the club ascended from the third tier to the second tier of competition. Despite the success, Warburton found his contract was not to be renewed after the 2014-15 season. With Benham influencing the decision making process and Warburton handling the field level duties of a manager, Brentford managed to escape the third tier after being there for five seasons (2009-10 through 2013-14). The Bees broke through to the Championship, England’s second tier behind the EPL. More success followed in the 2014-15 season as Brentford finished fifth in the Championship and thus found themselves in the playoffs for the right to join the big clubs in arguably the best league in the world. While their playoff run ended earlier than The Bees would have liked, their overall success is not to be discounted.

Though the Bees fell short in the playoffs, their rapid ascent has made people take note, including their fans. Benham made time for a Q&A session last year on the Griffin Park Grapevine fan forum, and some of his answers were on point. In order to read the entire session you’ll have to register a free account on GPG, however below are just a few snippets of the Q&A (click to embiggen each picture).


As one would suspect, Benham is reluctant to give any details about the models and math at work, however his pasta preference is certainly concerning given penne reigns supreme.


Benham again doesn’t give away anything telling, but he quick to give traditional scouting and reports respect.


The context behind this answer is quite interesting given the history between Benham and Comolli. Damien Comolli came up as a scout with Arsenal, then worked his way up to director of football for Tottenham, in a similar way a baseball scout would climb the front office ladder. Comolli was dismissed after being at Tottenham for three seasons, landing as sporting director at Saint-Étienne. By the time he was relieved of duties there, Liverpool beckoned and he was appointed director of football strategy in November of 2010. After catching criticism regarding his negotiating abilities more than his scouting talents, Comolli and The Reds parted ways with the club near the end of 2011-12 season. The story, as written in Calvin’s book, is that Benham met with Comolli and was not impressed by any of the numbers Comolli showed him. Benham was also shocked at how Comolli asserted that his numbers and nothing else could be correct. Disagreements among analysts is nothing new, just look at the Red Sox and Mike Gimbel. He served as a specialist and consultant to then general manager Dan Duquette before Gimbel was, in his own words, used as a whipping boy.

Benham has generated his wealth using the best tools available to create the model in order to most accurately project outcomes. The best publicly available stats still leave much to be desired, however given Benham’s background, perhaps he and his team of analysts at Smarodds have broken down some of the walls surrounding statistics in soccer. While not a general manager or coach, as owner of a second-tier English soccer team, he certainly could be a pivotal character in the soccer realm. Just as Billy Beane came under fire for a number of his decisions, Benham has also been a target of the media. As the line near the end of Moneyball states, the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied. Always.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

A La Carte Sports Watching Is En Route

The NBA Finals have been wrapped up for just one week, but already the association is looking to the 2015-16 season. Even before the Golden State Warriors were crowned champions, the NBA announced a major change to their streaming League Pass service. Beginning next season, you’ll be given the option to purchase individual games or team packages, provided you’re out of the team’s local market.

As presently designed, the new League Pass will be compatible with computers — Windows and Mac — as well as Android and iOS devices. For those with Fire, Windows, Blackberry or other operating systems, you may be on the outside looking in. The NBA Game Time app (which is required to view League Pass on mobile devices) does support Amazon Fire devices, but support for Game Time was dropped for Windows devices in July of last year.

The importance of the NBA deciding to offer a more a la carte style cannot be understated, as now more light is cast on other sports leagues, particularly the NFL. As Engadget notes, the NFL is currently fighting a lawsuit from a fan regarding the limits of their Sunday Ticket service, specifically being forced to pay hundreds of dollars to see their favorite team 16 games per year even though they live thousands of miles away from the team’s location.

The murky waters of territorial or cable blackouts has been explored before, just ask a local Dodgers fan, and as Time Warner continues to lose money, it seems possible the 25-year and $8.3 billion dollar deal could get reworked. With sports fans and non-sports fans alike clamoring for an a la carte service, the answer could come not from a cable provider, but rather a group who knows a few things about entertainment in Sony.

During the Electronic Entertainment Expo this year, Sony announced an option purchase specific channels on their Playstation Vue services. It is an ambitious undertaking and perhaps Sony is simply dipping their toes in the water rather than diving right in the streaming market. Right now their Vue service is available in just five cities in the United States: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Playstation 3 and 4 owners in those cities who are tired of the paying a cable bill can pick up a number of individual channels — or a more traditional package — including Fox Soccer, Showtime and Machinima for prices ranging from $3.99 to $14.99.

Given the push for a la carte services, a recent poll conducted by DigitalSmiths and posted via DSLReports shows an interesting trend. If sports fans are the driving force of streaming or pay-as-you-go streaming options, the survey had an interesting way of showing it.


ESPN ranked 20th among preferred channels, behind non-sports channels such as Animal Planet, Food Network and the History Channel. ABC and CBS ranked first and third respectively, however it would be a stretch to call those sports channels given their diverse programming. The same could be said for NBC (4th), Fox (7th), TBS (15th) and TNT (17th). Where ESPN was the first sports exclusive channel, both Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports, NFL Network, MLB Network plus the Golf Channel and Tennis Channel managed to make the list.

Kudos to the NBA for seizing an opportunity to gain new fans after a strong ratings performance in the finals. Perhaps more professional leagues or streaming service options will follow suit and offer a more personalized option.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

MLB Network Announces New Streaming Option

Major League Baseball gets a lot things right. Their Advanced Media department, the group in control of and MLB.TV, have now updated their At-Bat app. In addition to watching games — which are still subject to local blackouts — the app now allows for constant viewing of the MLB Network’s round the clock channel. Unfortunately unlike Pinocchio, there remain strings attached to this deal.

A qualifying cable subscription is required to view the MLB Network live stream. The stream is available on iOS and Android phones or tablets as well as Mac and PCs. As noted by the crew over at Awful Announcing, the initial group of cable providers who have agreed to support the stream does not include Comcast. In addition to missing what Wikipedia calls the number one (by subscriber count) provider in the United States, those who use Charter Communications — number six by subscriber count — such as myself, are also left out.

After logging into my app, I was sad to see I was one of the million of baseball fans left out of the ability to stream the show.


The upshot is this means people on the go (or at work) have the option to view MLB Network shows, interviews and even out-of-market games while away from their televisions. Perhaps even more importantly is the inclusion of playoff and preseason games. Being able to catch a spring training game after a long winter or watching a potential series-defining game when not at home and without paying for any extra add-ons is a great move for baseball.

Last season MLB Network claimed two playoff games, Game 2 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and the Cardinals and Game 3 of the NLDS with the Nationals and Giants. In 2013 there were also two DS games shown, one from the NL and another from the AL. The same format of MLB Network getting two DS games stretches back to 2012. Given that MLB, ESPN, Fox and TBS came to an eight-year, $12.4 billion broadcast agreement that runs through 201, count on continuing to be able to see at least two playoff games per year via MLB Network’s online stream.

Even with the blackouts and the restrictions due to cable companies, this 24/7 streaming of a major sport offering represents a first in the world of sports. Yes, the NBA, NHL and NFL all have their own channels however none are simulcast in the same way MLB Network is. This move seems like a way to meet the old crowd and the new generation in the middle. More traditional TV subscribers may not find a ton of use for it and dedicated cord cutters will likely wish MLB Network didn’t require a cable package. Of course, with such a lukewarm offering, it’s hard to imagine this move generating a lasting effect. Perhaps as the NFL embraces the online streaming realm and as more and more people cut the cord, eventually a non-subscription version may arrive at some point.

Blackout Policies and Their Consequences

Few topics are so regularly discussed among my baseball circle of friends and colleagues as local blackout policies. While I am certainly biased in that I watch and talk baseball more than any other sport, I — among plenty of others — have found numerous flaws in MLB’s way of blocking local fans from their favorite teams. By no means is baseball’s governing body alone in limited television access for regional fans, as the NFL, NHL and MLS have a blackout policy of some sort in place, however given the sheer number of MLB games played each season, more baseball games are blacked out than the other sports combined.

To be fair, the NFL did lift local blackouts for the upcoming 2015 season, however as the linked article notes, zero games were blacked out in 2014. NFL games are only subject to local TV blackouts if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before kickoff rather than the constantly blocked games in other sports. Professional hockey has seen its share of blackouts in TV, though a recent development for the Tampa Bay Lightning may be expanding the definition of “local blackout.”

Via CSN Chicago (warning: auto-playing video), Tampa is following in the footsteps of St. Louis and Nashville hockey teams in making it difficult for visiting (read: Chicago) fans to see the game in the stadium. The policy also affects actual Lightning fans living in other states. If fans have the time and the means to follow their favorite team from another state, tickets may not be available for them. A screenshot directly from the Lightning Ticketmaster describes the situation:

lightningBuilding a home field advantage or looking for any competitive edge is all well and good, but at what point is a line drawn? How far will fans go to avoid the blackout issues, both on TV and in-person? Going back to baseball, there are massive numbers of people who can’t watch games based on their geographic location. One of my friends was recently accepted to graduate school at Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa. The sole downside for him thus far, other than the workload, has been being subjected to blackouts for his favorite team — the St. Louis Cardinals. According to Google Maps, Ames is nearly 370 miles away from Busch Stadium, yet he is still blocked off from their games. Running the Ames 50010 zip code through the MLB blackout finder, the Cardinals aren’t the only team subjected to broadcast issues. Both clubs in Chicago, the Twins, Brewers and Royals are blacked out for him. Even if he were a more broad baseball fan without ties to a specific team, his location alone blocks him off from 20 percent of MLB teams.

The lengths organized sports are going to block off fans from games has only been surpassed by those same fans looking for a way to circumvent the blackouts. Last week a free and popular virtual private network (VPN) came under criticism not from any league or association, but its own userbase. The Chrome and Firefox extension Hola! or Hola! Better Internet was denounced as a potential botnet to be used for malicious attacks on websites, to which they responded to Monday. Danger comes in the form of Hola! using other people’s idle bandwidth — and vice-versa — in order to circumvent geo-blocked content. By granting access to your Internet connection, it can be taken over and re-routed, potentially as part of a DDoS attack on a site or IP address. Be it accessing Canada’s or Australia’s Netflix or someone over there accessing the United States selection of TV and shows, Hola! provided a free and easy way to get around geographically-blocked content. Despite it no longer being available in the Chrome Store, the extension is still downloadable straight from the company’s site. I’d urge caution before a download of Hola! is considered, as the recent allegations have once again shown there is no such thing as a free lunch.

According to the Hola website over 47 million people have downloaded the extension to enhance their web browsing, despite the clear risks involved. That such a number of people would be willing to risk their idle connection in order to open the Internet for their browsing or entertainment needs shows the measure of their resolve. Whether companies like Netflix and HBO or leagues such as MLB or NHL open up their blackout restriction policies on their own accord may not matter. As long as people have a workaround — questionable or not — the market will find a way to access the desired content.

(Header image via BizOfBaseball)