One of the biggest discussions around replay reviews across sports has been about giving fans more access. In particular, the new-look XFL (3.0) has recently received plaudits for showing VP of officiating and rules innovation Dean Blandino reviewing plays in their command center and relaying rulings to the on-field officials. Well, Major League Baseball is now set to do something along similar lines for national broadcasts on MLB Network and Apple TV+, and they’re doing so as part of a wide-ranging new partnership with Zoom. Here’s more on that from a release:
Major League Baseball (MLB) and Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: ZM) today announced a first-of-its-kind partnership for the league, aimed to enhance MLB games and the fan viewership experience. As the new Official Unified Communications Platform of MLB, Zoom Contact Center, and the Zoom platform technology will power new elements of Major League games and broadcasts.
…Zoom Contact Center transforms replay review –In the 2022 MLB season, there were more than 1,400 replay reviews. Historically, the league’s replay review was reliant on disparate technology and audio-only communication with umpires on the field, resulting in fans being disconnected from the decision-making process.
Beginning with the 2023 Season, the Crew Chief, the most senior member of the four-man umpire crew, will connect to the Zoom Replay Operations Center using Zoom’s Contact Center solution during any replay review. During national broadcasts on MLB Network and Apple TV+, fans will also see the Zoom Replay Operations Center in action live during replay reviews and hear from an expert rules analyst who will discuss replay reviews with the broadcast team. MLB’s goal with this new setup is to create a more transparent and engaging review process.
The broadcast element here is only part of this larger deal. Standardizing these league replay reviews with Zoom’s technology is important even on the broadcasts not on those platforms, and this will allow the crew chiefs to get video of the command center discussions, not just the audio they previously received. And there are also many other notable elements of this MLB/Zoom partnership, including secure information transmission around the MLB Draft and broader league-wide Zoom integration. But the broadcasting part here is significant as a jump for MLB. Here are some quotes on the overall partnership from that release:
MLB Chief Operations & Strategy Officer Chris Marinak said: “We are always looking for innovative ways to leverage best-in-class technology to advance the MLB experience and deliver more to our fans. Partnering with Zoom, a category leader that reinvented the way we connect, was a natural next step for us. We are excited to integrate Zoom Contact Center and other Zoom platform technology into our gameday operations and continue to modernize experiences in a secure, reliable, and innovative way.”
Zoom Chief Marketing Officer, Janine Pelosi said: “MLB brings together tens of millions of passionate fans every season. Zoom’s rapid pace of innovation and obsession with making human connection easier and better is crucial to help MLB evolve its experience and deliver unprecedented transparency and access to its fans. With MLB leveraging Zoom Contact Center and Zoom’s all-in-one collaboration platform, we are able to truly show the world how a historical brand can continue to innovate and unlock new possibilities.”
Here’s a look at what the national MLB replay review center (opened in 2014) looked like in 2017, from a Fox Sports South broadcast that year. Of course, this is just a look at the process; the new deal will be showing this off live for specific calls.
Of course, some leagues have done some things along these lines before. That includes some NHL broadcasts showing footage from the league’s Situation Room replay review center, plus the aforementioned XFL moves. Here’s how that looked in a December 2021 NHL game on Sportsnet:
Well this is awesome, looks like Sportsnet is getting live coverage of the situation room tonight ? #NHL pic.twitter.com/47poinEXDm
— David Nestico (@davidnestico200) December 5, 2021
And here’s how that looked in the XFL in an ESPN broadcast this February:
A look at the XFL Command Center and replay system on the ESPN broadcast.
Dean Blandino, the XFL VP of officiating and rules innovation, relays a review ruling to the ref. ??? pic.twitter.com/VPiNQNedgJ
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 18, 2023
It’s not clear yet just how much will be shown of the replay operations center on these MLB broadcasts, or who this expert rules analyst who will discuss reviews with the broadcasters will be. But this is definitely an interesting idea for MLB to try on some national broadcasts, and doing so as part of a wide-ranging partnership with Zoom seems to make a lot of sense.
[MLB.com; MLB replay review center photo from Bally Sports South on YouTube]