The “NFL Redzone” channel changed Football Sundays in America. Already the most popular sport in the country, in 2009 the league itself introduced a channel that would “whiparound” every game being played, so the viewer wouldn’t miss a moment of action. Strongly influenced by the growth of fantasy football, the channel was brilliant in that a fan wouldn’t have to miss any scoring play. Since the NFL has up to 10 or 11 games on at one time during the 1 PM hour, this channel allowed the viewer to get in as many plays at once while only using one television. The idea was first introduced by DirectTV’s “Red Zone Channel,” but the NFL’s version was available through any cable provider.
The NFL now had this amazing way to not miss anything in their sport, but the MLB did not…until now. Sure, there were attempts: MLB Network does a great job on the nights they provide MLB Tonight, a show where three or four ex-players or front office people jump around from game to game, making sure to keep the viewer up to date on what is going on in each game. The issue there is if the network is broadcasting a full game, which they do several nights a week, MLB Tonight is not available. The network also introduced “MLB Strike Zone”, a channel very similar to MLB Tonight, that aired on Tuesdays and Fridays, two nights that the network had their own game broadcasts. Strike Zone is not available on Comcast, so myself and many others never got the luxury of that offering.
Fox Sports 1 has MLB Whiparound and ESPN offers Baseball Tonight, but those shows are usually only limited to one-hour episodes and only one or two days a week (also, commercials!). The best thing for MLB fans was to purchase MLB.TV, which allowed the viewer to view any game (unless they were annoyingly blacked out). If the viewer was using the application on their computer, they could even view up to four games at a time. This is the first year I have purchased MLB.TV and I have been pleased with my purchase whether watching on my computer (preferred for the multi-game option), my TV, my iPad, or in desperate times, my phone.
On Saturday night, May 14, Dan Hirsch of TheBaseballGuage.com, released a tweet that could change how baseball fans take in their sport.
— Dan Hirsch (@DanHirsch) May 14, 2016
Here, Hirsch has created a “dashboard” that puts even the NFL Red Zone channel to shame. He allows you to set priority to situations that the MLB.TV viewer would like to see. Instead of clicking back and forth between games, sometimes guessing when your fantasy player is coming to bat, only to miss it, Hirsch’s dashboard allows the viewer to have the feed automatically switch to a game if that player is coming to bat. There are other prioritization options available as well – if a game has a no-hitter occurring (and you can set which inning begins your excitement), that’s a priority option. Hirsch even hilariously has a “Vin Scully” option, that you will automatically get a game if it features the solemn stories of the great broadcaster.
Hirsch let me know via e-mail that he got the idea from Dan Brooks of brooksbaseball.net, who started the blueprint of an “MLB Red Zone” idea. Brooks created a script that would change the MLB.TV broadcast based on “leverage index” – meaning you would be automatically watching the game with the most intriguing situation at play. At inning breaks, the feed would change and you would be able to skip the commercial break, much like the other Red Zone channels. The feed also had the potential to switch between batters, if there was a much higher leverage (>1.5x) available. Hirsch loved the idea but wanted to take it a bit further.
Hirsch not only created the priority options, but put the automatic switch either between batters or the possibility of switching right away if one of your priorities was occurring, to help not miss anything you wanted to see. One issue that Hirsch ran into with Brooks’ version was if the feed switched to a team that he was blacked out from, it would just show the blackout screen. Brooks put in a “teams to ignore” feature, which allows the viewer to select teams to not be a part of their feed to avoid that nuisance.
I spoke with Hirsch about other possibilities, as this is still a work in it’s infancy. MLB does provide a “championship leverage index” which he may use as the season progresses. The CLI will prioritize games that have a more meaningful impact on the standings. Viewers will get Texas-Toronto over Cincinnati-Philadelphia in that scenario, regardless of what is occurring in Philadelphia.
It goes without saying that Major League Baseball may eventually notice what Hirsch has created but both of our hopes is that they may make it an option as part of their package (and hopefully give Brooks and Hirsch the credit they deserve). As a fantasy baseball player, this is a dream come true. I purchased MLB.TV to watch the play around the league from teams I don’t often see, but to be able to see my fantasy players hit their home runs as soon as possible so I can send out the appropriate smack talk. With the prioritization options, this new MLB Red Zone provides options that not even the NFL Red Zone channel can offer. This could be an opportunity for baseball to be at the forefront of the new sports-viewing culture. Here’s hoping they embrace it as such.