SBD/March 5, 2014/Media

MLBAM's Bowman Discusses Development, Rollout Of Player Tracking Tech In Q&A

Bowman said the tracking data will be released in unvarnished form in '15
MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman discussed MLB's new player tracking system, unveiled at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference last weekend, in a Q&A with Jonah Keri of GRANTLAND. Bowman talked about "what the new technology could mean for the game, and how MLBAM will work through the challenges that are bound to pop up as the system launches this year in three parks, then expands to all 30 stadiums" in '15. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: How long had MLBAM been working on this?
Bowman: We’ve been working with Sportvision for some time, on PITCHf/x and FIELDf/x. This system is more evolved, and easier to track. There are two steps here. First, you’re capturing all these pieces of data at 32 frames per second. That’s easy. Then, you’re capturing video. That’s easy. Like any cake you bake, it’s how you put the ingredients together, combining data and video capture. Then you have to overlay it all accurately, clearly, and quickly so people understand it. We’re committed to launching this year. We want to have a few eggs lying around, and we’ve got FIELDf/x already in a number of parks.

Q: At the conference, your CTO (Joe Inzerillo) said the system would be available “for baseball operations and some fan use for 2014.” How much access are we talking about? When exactly? And what will we get in 2015?
Bowman: We’ve talked to baseball ops people, letting them know that the path we’re going down is to make it available to everybody. ... It won’t be as granular as stats folks want initially, more like looking at the finished product rather than ingredients -- though ops people will see that granular data right away. Plus with only three parks this year, we wanted to make sure there was a proper sharing arrangement between all the teams, so even if your team doesn’t play in a particular park this year, that team still has access to the data coming out of it. Maintaining on-field competitiveness and fairness was important. We want to get it out in somewhat varnished form to the masses. But the goal is to also get it out in unvarnished form to people who want it eventually. That provides value, too, so that [analysts] can think of things that we haven’t thought of. Then there’s broadcast TV; we think this will be very interesting to fans, to be able to see the path a fielder takes, the line to the ball. ... We expect to have unvarnished data on March 30 to send to baseball ops folks. For regular fans ... you’ll start to see those in April of this year. It seems odd to have a whole season for a trial, but that’s what we’re doing. The goal is to put the product out this year, then get to all 30 parks, then release the data in unvarnished form in 2015.

Q: How do you plan to monetize the new system?
Bowman: 97 percent of TV broadcasts are using PITCHf/x in some fashion, and that’s sponsored -- though that revenue goes to teams; it doesn’t come directly to us. We’re capitalists at MLB.com, but frankly we haven’t given that much thought here. It’d be nice to get some return, but that’s not what’s driving us right now. This is something we think fans want, and we can deliver it, so that’s what we’re going to do (GRANTLAND.com, 3/4).
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