MLB.com - Running Major League Baseball’s All-in-One Website
MLB opened in Tokyo
When the Major League Baseball season opened this year in Tokyo with a game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Americans wanting to watch had a choice. They could either wake up in the dark to see it live on television, or go to MLB.
This streaming video service, called MLB.
5 billion page views
All of this has attracted a huge and growing amount of traffic. Midway through the 2004 season, Major League Baseball Advanced Media claimed it had registered a record 5 billion page views, versus just 1.
MLB Advanced Media
Major League Baseball Advanced Media is based in Chelsea, New York, 50 miles north of Manhattan. Of MLBAM's 120 staffers, 30 actually run the site?"the same number that have been running it since day one,"says Choti. The hardware/
Streaming media and Gameday
MLBAM has taken advantage of the increasing number of broadband connections in both the U.
MLBAM's programming team also links the game box scores with specific events within the video stream, so that users can look both at the numbers and the plays behind those numbers.
"The other things the metatags do is let us condense games," Choti says. "We can boil a full game that runs 3 to 3-1/
If video streaming is MLB.
"We use a TIBCO network to carry that data back to our production servers where it is manipulated and presented in Gameday. But we don't update numbers in the stat section during a game because there have been plenty of cases where an official scorekeeper has changed his mind about a particular call?a hit that becomes an error, for example. In one game, there was even an issue as to whether a hit was a home run or a double?it was uncertain what the official score was at the end of the game.
Gameday is popular. More than 500,000 people at a time access Gameday, each one effectively requesting updates every six seconds. That load, says Choti, puts such a demand on resources that, on another website, it would constitute a denial-of-service attack. One challenge in offering Gameday is that the service cannot tolerate latency. "When a user make a request every six seconds, he or she may actually be hitting a different server each time. But I cannot afford to have you hit a server in California that is on pitch three and a server that’
Load balancing and compression
Choti says that MLB.
Delay for accuracy
Looking at the Internet feed while getting live coverage on radio or television, you realize that the information on the website lags a bit. It is real-time, almost, but not quite. Choti says the delay is not due to a bandwidth bottleneck: data can be displayed on the Web within three seconds of input. "We want clean data," Choti says. "We'd prefer the stringer be slow and get the play right, rather than be quicker and get the play wrong.” The raw data is pushed into a massive Oracle database and made available online. Between the statistics and the mass of biographical data, the diagrams and the descriptions, you could be your own announcer and give your own play-by-play account.
Statistics, served any way you want them
One of MLB.
- Q:How did Miguel Tejada do against left-handed batters in July?
- A:250 average, with 3 home runs, 4 doubles, and 9 RBIs.
- Q:How did Barry Bonds to against Hideo Nomo in 2003?
- A:In four at-bats, he hit .300?including one homer and a double, with 2 RBIs.
- Q:What was Hideo Nomo’
s ERA [earned run average] with the Dodgers?
54 in 1995. 5. 05 in 1998. 3. 39 in 2002.
- Q:How did Ichiro Suzuki, Carl Crawford, and Derek Jeter compare as of mid-August?
- A:.511 versus .493 versus .474, with Jeter getting more than twice as many home runs (15) than the other two, combined. (The site shows a graph of each player’
s batting average since the beginning of the season.)
Most websites? whether for a company, a publication, or a service like eBay?are beholden to a single management team. One of MLB.
The 30 clubs ran 30 different websites of varying degrees of quality?some of them amounting to no more than an online brochure. The theory behind centralization was to create 30 great websites for the fans, reduce the cost of technology by spreading it over 30 clubs, and augment revenue by selling baseball memorabilia. The proposition seemed simple: if the clubs would give up some control, the quality would rise, the costs would sink, and everyone from fans to the teams would be winners. But for a few teams with established websites, the transition was difficult. Some fans saw the new standardized site and went elsewhere. But over time, they've returned, as MLB.
Future of MNB.
Those numbers will probably continue to rise?but not without much scrambling at MLBAM. “Baseball fans are pretty demanding, as they should be,” says Choti. “And every time we think we've provided the functionality and data they are looking for, some fan has a great new idea that sends us back to the drawing board.”
Small screen, a lot of information
Game on your desktop
On an August afternoon, the Oakland A’
At the top right-hand corner is a rotating scoreboard of other games, both in progress and scheduled. Click on any game in progress, and Gameday shifts to that contest. At the bottom are displayed headlines of baseball news: The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs; Colorado’
Sidebar: A conversation with Bob Bowman
When Bob Bowman was recruited to run Major League Baseball Advanced Media and turn 30 team websites into a cohesive whole, he already had plenty of practice. Bowman previously headed ITT Corporation, once one of America's most sprawling conglomerates. He now oversees a staff of 180 people, 120 in Chelsea, New York, the others based in the field.
com has a tough balancing act: it represents baseball as a whole and 30 separate teams. Were club owners reluctant to give up their own vision of how they should appear on the Web?
- A:We've had clubs that, for understandable reasons, think they would do a better job representing their club to their fans. Other clubs are concerned about anything that's centralized ? they want to generate local revenue and use it locally. So for the first year, people were more questioning and skeptical. We’
re now entering the third year, and they've grown more accepting of the idea and are looking at how to leverage the site to their advantage.
- Q:Was the site designed by consensus or did you sell a vision?
- A:We kept the clubs intimately involved every step of the way. We got input, but we presented what we thought made sense. Clearly we're very different than ESPN [the Disney-owned American sports television station]. We try to present a lot of information in a very uniform way so people can quickly find out what's going on in baseball.
- Q:How do you work with each team?
- A:They designate people, and we designated people. We have club relation people that manage 10 clubs each, and they work with the clubs every day. It's a very involved and time consuming job.
- Q:Do you do anything else besides baseball?
- A:We stream more live sports than anybody, and therefore we are talking to a number of sports entities about doing comparable services for them. We've created a subsidiary, called AM/
PM Sports. We streamed some football games this fall. We're going to do a lot of basketball games this winter.
- Q:You give the journalists who write for MLB.
com freedom to criticize teams, players and coaches. How did that come about?
- A:Clearly the fans understand the difference between promotion and news. We love our industry and we love our game, and we promote it. But we also try to write the news pieces down the middle. At times, clubs are mad at us because we say something they’
d rather we had not, but if we don’ t keep coverage balanced, our fans will not come back. If the manager or a player makes a bonehead play, we say so.
s the most popular part of the site?
- A:"Gameday," which is our live graphical game depiction. It's the penultimate live game application. And it will be even better next year when we start showing the trajectory of the pitch. If you can’
t be at the game, it’ s going to be the next best thing.
- Q:Do most people view Gameday on its own, or in conjunction with radio and television.
- A:Most people watch it during the day, at work, when they cannot be near a TV. They probably have it as a minimized window, which they pop up every few minutes to see what's going on in the game. [He jokes:] We believe this helps productivity in America. We think it gives people who are working hard at their desks a chance to relax and now and then enjoy baseball.
- Q:The National Football League also has a website. How are you different?
- A:Football is appointment viewing. Football grew up as a TV sport and that’
s how most people watch it. It's shown once a week for three hours, and most Internet traffic for football relates to spreads and games and fantasy. It doesn't relate to video, audio or information because you are watching the game live.
- Baseball is very different. Even the biggest fan can't go to every game or watch every game on TV. Baseball is three hours every night, and people just don't have that time every night. The theory behind our Internet site is in relating to that fan?who loves the game, wants to stay in touch with the game, but doesn’
t always have the time. If you have just three minutes, we're going to get you what you need to know. If you have more time, we will give you more depth.
s the design strategy to accomplish that?
- A:Our philosophy is that baseball fans love the game of baseball. Some days they have a lot of time, some days not much. Our site should be able to track to whichever mood they are in that day. If your time is short, we'll tell you who is pitching, who is playing, and who is hot. We won't make you hunt.
By the same token, if you're a stat nut or a serious fantasy player, our site has some 275,000 pages. Our database is larger than other league's database, and it's dynamic?you can manipulate it. After a game has been finalized and our stringer's score matched up with the official score, it gets entered into our database. At that point, it has to be inviolate?we cannot give Babe Ruth a 61st home run.