While I know it’s likely challenging for many of our readers to imagine spring and baseball season while being pummeled by the polar vortex instead of the mid-60s and sun that marks February in the Bay Area (please don’t hate me, our property values make up for it), the season truly is upon us, including this week’s release of the 2014 update to MLB’s At Bat iOS and Android app, and its younger sibling MLB At the Ballpark. The apps are not only a critical tool for tracking, perhaps obsessively if you’re me, your favorite team, but also one of the keys to the potential success of MLB’s deployment of the iBeacon low energy bluetooth micro-location sensors.
Despite some of the concerns about the sensors and their potential for unwanted battery drain and annoying pings, there’s lots to like about the idea, even in the test phases that were demoed last fall prior to the 2014 first round of roll-outs. But even more than that, MLB seems in general to be the perfect situation to take advantage of what iBeacon can offer with the minimum of downside. Here are my five reasons I expect iBeacon and MLB to be a hit.
1. MLB patrons are already using apps.
Passbook for game tickets, MLB At Bat for streaming and score updates and news, MLB At the Ballpark for game day information; any even moderately frequent MLB patron with a smart phone has at least one of these, if not all three and then some. As a result, MLB has cleared part of the adoption and buy-in hurdle because the iBeacon functionality is being bundled in with apps people are already used to using. For companies without apps, buy-in will be tougher because you have to get customers and patrons to not only download the app, but opt-in to the updates. Just one more reason for companies to start thinking about app content now, and a reason why MLB is poised for success here.
2. Dense crowds with lots of individual locations.
Ballparks have two things that make micro-location updates like iBeacon super useful — dense crowds that can make weaving your way through promenades and corridors a slow, not especially easy process and that make reading physical signage difficult (especially if you’re somewhat vertically challenged like myself), and a large number of small, specific locations people would be looking for (a specific food vendor, the game used merchandise booth, that one place with the good beer, etc.). Aside from the push alerts, the ability to pin-point someone’s location that carefully can couple with the existing facility maps in the MLB apps to guide someone to their desired destination.
3. Limited movement.
Unlike a mall where you’re walking past dozens of different stores in the span of minutes, potentially causing a heinous barrage of pings from your phone, most patrons at ballgames only get up from their seats a handful of times during a game. The pings are far less potentially annoying while you’re walking the outfield promenade trying to decide what to have for lunch before first pitch than they would be in the eighth inning of a one-run game when you’re securely in your seat, presumably safe from the reach of any excitable sensors.
4. Existing mobile involvement.
Ballparks are already incorporating mobile technology into the game with “text to vote” and “text to enter” scoreboard games and contests, designated social media hashtags, and more. If you look around at a game, people frequently have their phones out taking pictures, looking up stats, or similar. Couple with this the frequent starts and stops in baseball, and there are lots of opportunities for people to have their phones out and be receptive to notifications without disrupting their experience of the event.
5. Immense backlog of information to share.
Baseball has a history stretching back over a hundred years and is, probably more than any other sport, immensely tied into that history. Ballparks are full of commemorative plaques, statues honoring a team’s greats, and nods to local history, and iBeacon is a fantastic opportunity, like with the Mets home run apple example from the demo last fall at Citi Field, to be able to serve that history up in more dynamic and complete ways than a few sentences on a wall or similar that we currently have. Combine that history with the work of the Elias Sports Bureau, who have been compiling statistical and historical data for over a hundred years and have been the official statisticians of MLB for barely less than that, and you have a bevy of information just waiting to be shared wherever relevant during a trip to the ballpark.
It’s not quite sunshine and lemonade and hot dog (and garlic fries!) time just yet, but it is time for brands to start thinking about how these micro-location services could be used to their advantage, and MLB is just the brand to get that ball flying, as it were. Have a location or a company that you think begs out for the iBeacon treatment? Let us know in the comments!