Major League Baseball had a nice little opening day for itself yesterday as record numbers of people accessed games through live and on-demand video streams. In fact, a total 60 million people came through the virtual turn-styles using MLB.com, MLB.TV, the MLB At Bat mobile app and MLB.com-controlled social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.
The streaming numbers were up 60 percent from last year and there are a number of reasons for that, according to Bob Bowman, president, MLB Business and Media.
“People are ready for baseball. It was a very tough winter in New England and the midwest. Baseball, more than robins, is the true sign of spring,” Bowman told TechCrunch.
What’s more, from a technology perspective, the infrastructure is in place and people expect to be able to do this.
“That’s why our numbers are up,” he said.
He also trumpeted the 9M opens on the MLB At Bat app. “Nine million was a surprising number to us,” Bowman said. It’s a 40 percent increase over last year’s figures and they know that 30 percent watched live streams, 20 percent listened to audio streams and another 20 percent were using the live pitch by pitch tool that lets you see a graphical representation of the game in near real time with a realistic representations of every MLB park. The remainder were using other features such as checking scores.
“The key thing is fans can touch the game every day. Nine million opens tells you people don’t want to be away from the game. We make it easy and enjoyable and it sells itself. Nobody thought baseball would be suited to digital technology, but it is,” Bowman said.
He recognizes that opening day is special and that they won’t keep up these numbers all year, but he believes with such big numbers, it certainly bodes well for the year. “It’s opening day. Everyone is in first on opening day, but it’s heartening,” he said.
Bowman said that MLB has been working at delivering digital services for years, long before there were apps or iPhones, but he says the numbers show the market is ready and it’s helping attract a broader audience to the game.
“Millennials love [accessing MLB on their mobile devices], but older people love it too,” he said.
MLB’s new commissioner Rob Manfred also acutely understands the power and importance of digital media in attracting a broader audience to the game.
“I loved [former commissioner] Bud Selig, but having Manfred who understands and relies on digital media is [a big change]. We have spoken about this and we want to press the advantage,” he said.
Baseball is a game of tradition that goes back over 100 years, but it’s changing with the times and being accessible on digital media is a big part of that. It allows people to stay connected to the game anywhere, anytime from any device.
“The technology hasn’t changed the game itself, but it increases the numbers, growth and age potential — and the ability to reach more people. We are blessed with a great game and technology is deliberately or inadvertently changing the [way people interact with the] game.”