In 2016, SportsMEDIA Technology (SMT) acquired Sportvision, a company known for providing television viewing enhancements to sports broadcasts. You might know them as the people behind the NHL puck halo, the yellow first-down line in NFL games, and the virtual flags above racecars that make it easier to track them during a NASCAR event. Since SMT was a leader in real-time scoring and wireless data systems, the idea was that the combined efforts of the two companies would revolutionize the way we all watch sports.
You would think that, considering Sportvision and Major League Baseball and Advanced Media (MLBAM) have a contract with one another, that Sportvision and SMT would be the ones behind the pitch-tracking system that is used during MLB online broadcasts.
According to SMT, that would be incorrect.
Per Reuters, SMT has filed a lawsuit against MLBAM that alleges that it reneged on their three-year, multimillion-dollar contract by infringing on their technology patents and using third parties to provide a similar service.
Along with patent infringement, SMT is claiming theft of trade secrets and breach of contract. Per the lawsuit, “over its 30-year history, SMT has never encountered an executive leader(ship) of a major US sports league behaving as if the rules of civility, professional conduct, US contract law and US patent law did not apply to their actions and behavior.”
According to SMT, Sportvision and MLBAM signed a contract before SMT purchased the company that gave Sportvision exclusive rights to provide use of their PITCHf/x pitch-tracking system for three full MLB seasons. However, SMT now alleges that MLBAM has not only failed to live up to that agreement but they’ve also been working with third parties to emulate that technology. Per SMT, that not only fails to fulfill the contractual obligations of their agreement but also is a misuse of their patented technology.
Rueters was unable to reach Major League Baseball for a comment.
If there was a contractual obligation, it certainly didn’t stop MLBAM from dropping PITCHf/x in favor of Statcast, which they did last season. According to FiveThirtyEight, the switchover wasn’t without growing pains.
The technology used cameras to measure the velocity, position, and break of every pitch in real time, transforming how sabermetricians analyzed the sport. But this season, PITCHf/x was phased out in favor of Statcast, a newer and more advanced system that tracks the ball (and players) using a combination of radar and cameras.
On paper, Statcast is an incredible leap forward — and when it works, it’s amazing. But so far, it has struggled to measure the basic elements of pitching that PITCHf/x had down cold, causing confusion among sabermetricians and fans alike.
It hasn’t been a great few months for MLBAM. In December, it was revealed that former CEO Bob Bowman had left the company due to “numerous alleged incidents of workplace misconduct.” Those incidents supposedly included shoving a member of the Red Sox ownership group during the week of the All-Star Game in July and hiring women for an MLBAM party during the 2016 All-Star Game that many believed were escorts.