Just in time for the opening of the baseball season last weekend, Apple and Major League Baseball announced a big product placement deal that will put iPad Pros in MLB dugouts.
Let’s hope the multi-year deal turns out better than Microsoft’s $400 million deal to put Surface tablets on NFL sidelines. That arrangement was roiled by users initially calling the devices iPads on TV, not to mention troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel using one to smack himself on the head—repeatedly—after a particularly bone-headed play. And things only got worse when announcers during the AFC Championship game told millions of viewers the devices weren’t working properly, although the glitch was later blamed on “networking issues.”
At least the Apple/MLB deal likely won’t have the mis-naming issues (nobody is going to call them “Surfaces” by mistake), but it remains to be seen how useful the devices will be for teams, and how big a lift Apple will get from its role in the national pastime. Some traditionalists—including Cubs manage Joe Maddon— have been quoted saying they’re not yet sold on the idea.
The 12.9-inch devices—packed in special branded cases and equipped with a dedicated MLB Dugout app developed by MLB Advanced Media—are intended to help teams check detailed stats and even video to make decisions about matchups and alignments. As baseball becomes more and more enamored of advanced analytics, the need for access to the right data at the right time continues to grow. And in what may turn out to be an even more important development, according to the Wall Street Journal MLB is also reportedly lifting its existing ban on using tech in dugouts, including laptops and smartphones.
You’ve got to love the addition of technology to the ongoing implementation of advanced analytics in sports, especially in baseball. But that could be only the beginning.
While the iPads won’t have access to the Internet during games, given the nature of baseball that allows players to spend a lot of time hanging out in the dugout and bullpen during games, who knows how long it will be before in-game social media activity from players and coaches is not only tolerated, but encouraged? Imagine tweets from sluggers after they smack the go-ahead dinger, or from pitchers crowing about having just struck out the side!
Now that would truly move baseball ahead of all the other sports in the innovative use of technology.