MLB and its 30 member franchises have embraced the advancement of technology in many ways, but not all of its components have caught up with the developments.
Events over the past week show that while many facets of MLB is on the cutting edge of available technology, not all of the policies which govern the use of that technology have kept up.
Prior to the revelation that the Boston Red Sox had been using Apple watches to steal signs, there was already a lawsuit that has been filed regarding a similar piece of apparel.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the MLB Players Association has filed a lawsuit against the creator of a wristband company whose products many players wear during games on a regular basis. The suit alleges that the owner of the apparel company is in violation of MLBPA licensing requirements.
In order for more than two players to wear a particular brand’s item simultaneously, the brand must apply for and purchase a license from both MLB and the MLBPA. The company’s owner, James Mims, plans to fight the suit, but the suit reveals a huge loophole that could apply to wearable technology.
The MLBPA states that it is protecting its business in the suit against Mims, and that is a precious commodity when the business of wearable technology comes into play. With a recent partnership with Whoop, MLB and the MLBPA have approved its brand of biometric measuring device for in-game use. Whoop technology measures player attributes like heart rate and respiration, making that information available to teams. A potential problem could emerge if that partnership, or another like it, takes further steps.
For the sake of argument, suppose that Whoop made an arrangement with MLB and the MLBPA that took Whoop’s devices beyond just being allowed, to exclusivity. In clearer language, it would be a violation of the sponsorship contract for any player in any MLB game to wear any other company’s biometric device. If MLB and the MLBPA can’t effectively keep personnel from wearing Mims Bandz, their ability to enforce the sponsorship contract is put into question as well. That means a company like Whoop is less likely to put up the money required for the exclusive deal.
Then there’s the Apple Watch drama. It’s apparent that more clarity, or more restrictive regulation, needs to be enacted regarding who can use what where. iPads have been in dugouts since 2016, when Apple paid up and designed an app exclusively for MLB teams to use. This is unfamiliar territory for a league which still technically bans the use of pine tar despite the fact that nearly all players use some amount of it regularly.
Despite that, it’s too late to reverse course. At Bat is one of the most successful mobile applications ever, and the sale of spin-off tech company Bamtech has made teams owners rich. The talk of an automated strike zone and pitch clocks has never had as much traction as it does now. For better or worse, MLB is a league dependent on technology. That is likely to only increase.
In any changes, there will always be unintended consequences. The hope is that the benefits outweigh them. Since the creation of MLB Advanced Media and the introduction of Statcast, MLB has endeavored to take advantage of all the benefits of technology. That’s to its credit, but it must take more care in attempting to anticipate the unexpected.