Why you should care
Because the world’s best players are putting on a show.
Over the past few weeks, Major League Baseball superstars, hopeful minor leaguers and unknown international ball hawks have been slugging it out in baseball’s “premier global competition,” the World Baseball Classic. And even though we just used those quotes, this year’s edition of the quadrennial tourney really has been terrific. Talent has come out in droves, and a growing number of secondary baseball nations — Israel and the Netherlands, for example — are playing fantastic ball. The championship round starts tonight, in Los Angeles.
So, why is no one watching? Turns out that many of the challenges that killed Olympic baseball have taken hold of this fledgling tournament: scheduling issues, lack of prestige and minimal fan enthusiasm outside of Latin America and Japan. This is a shame, but we’ve got a solution, one straight from our gadget-infused millennial soul, that will help fans connect with baseball during the WBC and beyond: The World Baseball Classic must become a full-blown interactive media event, broadcast with virtual reality and accompanied (and hyped) by a 24/7 streaming documentary film series.
Compared with this vision, the current state of broadcast is hardly stimulating. For the most part, baseball’s core viewership — largely in the Western Hemisphere — has been unable to even tune into many of the late-night live games and has had to make do with next-day highlights, from the Dominican Republic lineup mashing home runs to Team Israel’s thrilling “Mensch on a Bench” success story. And unlike the Olympics, there is no prime-time replay. Rule No. 1: Fans should be able to stream a game anytime, anywhere. (Crazy, right?)
The main argument against streaming sports is that it blunts something sacred in live events. Few modern fans will stream a game hours after the result — or even invest the time to watch in real time — when they can find a 45-second tweet instantaneously. To enhance watchability, the MLB has attempted small technological advancements, experimenting with electronic strike zones, for instance, and virtual “ball trackers.” But the sport’s broadcasts remains largely unchanged, and the lackluster interest in WBC is a result.
So let’s go further and turn to virtual reality. Let’s give viewers an on-field experience from behind the small screen. While we’re at it, add a documentary-style series following each national team. Allowing for emerging characters from various international squads would foster a fan connection and likely result in better live game ratings too. Want proof of concept? Check out Hard Knocks, the HBO series that follows one team during NFL preseason. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have produced successful reality-sports series, too, so our wish is workable.
Happily, some innovations in sports broadcast appear to be on the way. Intel, for instance, is working with La Liga’s Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the world’s foremost football clubs, to bring fans 360-degree video from the field, says James Carwana, general manager of Intel Sports Group. If nothing else, such innovations would make the WBC appointment viewing and change the perception of the tournament from casual preseason exhibition to groundbreaking event.
After launching a game-winning home run into the San Diego night sky, Team USA first baseman Eric Hosmer told ESPN that the chance to represent his country was the “reason we play this game.” This, from a recent World Series hero with the Kansas City Royals. Thousands of fans stayed well after the final pitch, taking photos and basking in the thrilling win over Venezuela. In person, the World Baseball Classic’s unbelievable atmosphere is evident, so let’s figure out how to relay the message.