- On June 1, Major League Baseball will debut virtual reality (VR) features to accompany live-streaming broadcasts. Using Google's Daydream headset and an Android smartphone, viewers can watch a televised game while seeing live player statistics and scores on the league's At Bat app, the sport organization wrote in a news release.
- However, the VR modes of the app won't have 360-degree views of games from inside ballparks, given the expense of special camera equipment and the logistics of filming inside a large stadium, Jamie Leece, MLB Advanced Media's vice president of games and VR strategy on mobile, digital and social gaming platforms, told Variety.
- The app's VR features will be offered to subscribers at no additional cost. The At Bat app is available for $2.99 a month or $19.99 a year. Users who want to see live games must subscribe to MLB.TV Premium at a cost of $24.99 a month, or $112.99 for the whole season, which includes the app subscription fee.
Baseball has a long history of evolving with changes in technology and the viewing habits of its audience, from the addition of night games and expanding its reach through radio and television to streaming games on mobile platforms. Sports leagues are testing out VR in various ways, as the NFL did last year with interactive presentations of in-game and post-game highlights of several games.
VR is still in its infancy of trying to provide a more immersive experience for consumers, but adoption is expected to accelerate rapidly. Total VR headset shipments are expected to grow 10x from last year to hit 99.4 million units in 2021, according to IDC.
MLB needs to continue changing with the times as younger audiences have a growing array of entertainment options, especially since the smartphone revolution that began 10 years ago with Apple's iPhone. The league's average attendance fell by 1.1% during the 2016 season, part of a longer-term trend of declines since attendance peaked 10 years ago before the last recession. Last month, the New York Yankees saw record low attendance for its new stadium, which opened in 2009 — a lull that the team blamed on the retirement of star players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
In addition to testing out new technologies like VR, the league is looking at ways to reach audiences via social media. Last week, MLB and Facebook announced a live-streaming deal in which the social network will broadcast 20 free games — or one game a week — this season. That follows the MLB's 2016 deal with Twitter to live-stream games. While VR may not reach more than a niche audience as of now, MLB recognizes that it needs to adopt emerging technologies and adapt to fans' habits and preferences.