Safety & Security

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More Netting, More Streaming Might be Coming to MLB

2 Dec, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
The Big Question, Though, is How This Affects Baseball at Other Levels

Reading the tea leaves, it looks like baseball is likely to be a little safer and a whole lot more accessible in the coming season.

The quarterly Owners Meeting of Major League Baseball teams wrapped up in November with Commissioner Rob Manfred making two major announcements:

  • Increased safety netting will likely be in place by the opening of the 2016 season; and

  • A new three-year agreement with FOX will allow fans to watch live in-market streaming on any mobile device

Manfred said a comprehensive report and recommendation on netting will be presented at the next Owners Meetings, to be held in January in Miami, according to reports on the Atlanta Braves website.

The issue of fan safety has been a growing concern. In the 2015 MLB season, multiple injuries occurred when fans were hit by balls and even by splintered bats. In addition, a longtime fan fell to his death from an upper deck at Turner Field in Atlanta.

It was unclear whether the netting issue would address such falls, or just objects flying off the field, but Manfred gave indications there would be more to the conversation.

"In addition to a recommendation on the physical location of nets, there will be a broad fan education component to the program," Manfred said at the meeting. "We'll have more details on that program after the [January] meeting, but there will be a change there."

Of course, he added, for the many fans who want to stay safe, or have their children stay safe, there are just as many who believe their game experience would be diminished by having to look through a net.

It’s a tough call, but it is likely, given the class-action lawsuit demanding better safeguards, that MLB will err on the side of caution this season, and in seasons to come.

But let’s go one step deeper into the equation. Youth sports facilities are being made bigger and more elaborate each year, as developers endeavor to try to give kids that pro player experience. Plenty of those stadiums now have the upper decks and the baseline seating found in adult venues.

So if MLB decides to install safety netting to deflect foul balls or other objects, will youth stadiums follow? Should they?

There will be two camps on this: those devoutly in favor of every precaution that can be taken, and those who view it as too much of a knee-jerk reaction. To a certain extent, whether or not safety measures make their way to youth baseball or softball will depend on governing bodies' views of liability. And that may take time. After all, for years, all MLB had was a warning on the back of each patron’s ticket, cautioning them about the danger of balls. And that was enough – until 2015. The recommendations in January may provide further hints.

Streaming: Of course, all the fans who hate watching games from behind netting may also be able to watch the action from their mobile devices. The current deal with FOX covers only the 15 markets in which FOX is the regional sports network: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Texas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York Yankees, Arizona, San Diego, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Manfred notes that negotiations with other cities are ongoing.

"The media landscape is changing very, very rapidly. It's important for us to make certain our content is available on as many platforms as possible in ways that fans may want to enjoy our games. And I think this is a huge step forward for the industry. I really do."

MLB has pioneered the technology of live streaming in pro sports, starting with the first live stream in August 2002 and then creating MLB.TV as the first over-the-top (OTT) service. Millions of fans have watched live out-of-market games this way, and according to Manfred’s announcement is the latest in a long line of breakthroughs for fans who want to watch games from anywhere, according to the Atlanta Braves article, which continues:

“With MLB.TV, MLB was the first sports league to stream its entire season (2003); first to wire its venues for TV-quality streaming (2005); first to use adaptive bit-rate streaming (2008); first to stream live 720p HD video (2009); first to stream live games/subscription product to the iPhone (2009); first with live video on connected devices (2009); first to stream live video to a gaming console (2010); first with live games embedded on Facebook & Twitter (2011); and first to make a live video stream embeddable to any site on the Internet (2013).”

Other developments the Commissioner discussed included:

New Home Plate: The Pirates and Marlins will play regular-season games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 30 and 31. "That particular series will also be the host for our Roberto Clemente Day celebration [on May 31]; having that in Puerto Rico will make that really special," Manfred said.

It is worth noting that Puerto Rico is working to establish itself as a sports destination, and that it has a number of great shot of being just that. In addition to having a bilingual workforce, excellent beaches and a number of tourist attractions, U.S. residents can get there without a passport.

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