Spring Training has been underway for almost two weeks, filled with promise for the new season, with the prospect of disappointment far off. The same applies, partly, in the media and tech offerings for those of us following the game from outside the US.
ESPN America will soon be broadcasting Spring Training games, but for the second year in a row only from the Grapefruit League in Florida. Repeated e-mails asking why they refuse to carry games from Arizona go unanswered. NASN, which ESPN bought a couple of years ago, carried games from both Florida and Arizona. One wonders why it is so much harder for ESPN to do so? Or is this just another example of the East Coast bias one constantly encounters in American baseball coverage?
Fortunately there is an alternative to ESPN America (which they seem slow in grasping), the many offerings from MLB.tv, including Gameday Audio. The various MLB.tv packages for 2012 have now gone on sale. This year there is a major improvement. Last year, if you bought an MLB.tv package, you could watch and listen to the games on their excellent At Bat iPhone and iPad apps. But you had to actually pay extra for each of the apps, which seemed like a rip-off to many. This year, if you subscribe to MLB.tv, the apps are free. They are supposed to appear today.
But one thing still seems uncertain. If you access Gameday Audio on a computer, not only can you listen to games live, you can listen to any game afterwards on-demand. This feature has not been included in the In Bat apps. This is particularly strange, since you could listen to archived games on a netbook, but not on an iPad. Even if you tried to just access the MLB site with a browser, you couldn’t do anything, because the iPad lacks Flash. Since rival Android tablets and smartphones do run Flash, this restriction makes no sense, and may explain why the apps are suddenly free.
You can watch archived video from games on iPhones and iPads, which can be an alternative. You can stick the phone in your pocket and listen. But this uses up a lot of bandwidth (and many have bandwidth caps) and sometimes the whole thing shuts down if you turn off the screen. And maybe people just want to listen to the radio broadcast.
In the middle of last season I asked Gameday Audio Support if they could consider adding archived games. Their response was along the lines of “that’s a good idea, we’ll think about it for an update”. No such update was forthcoming last season.
In early February I asked the same question again. The response:
The features of the mobile apps for this season are not yet available. They will be released closer to the start of Spring Training games.
We can only hope (although we probably won’t know until the first game of the new season).
We’re on the edge of a new baseball season, with the first Spring Training games at the end of the week. Yet Europe’s only cable TV source of baseball seems not to have learned from last year’s mistakes.
Towards the end of last season ESPN America made over its website, probably to make the former NASN.com more like the rest of ESPN. But there were some flaws in the new site, which I wrote to ESPN about at the time. Now with the new season almost here, not much seems to have been done to fix the problems.
I wrote to ESPN again a couple of weeks ago to point out or ask about a couple of things:
- This year would they give us games from Arizona as well as Florida? (NASN did during its tenure, but last year ESPN America only carried games from the Grapefruit League.)
- NASN had printable versions of the schedule for each day. When ESPN did its make-over that feature disappeared, and any attempts to print a day’s schedule just produced the first couple of hours.
It took more than a week, but ESPN America wrote back:
Thank you for your comments and for being an ESPN customer! We monitor feedback very carefully as it helps us offer you the best channel possible. We will take your comments into consideration for future scheduling.
ESPN America is always working to provide a fair and balanced schedule as we try to serve the needs of fans of so many different sports and teams. For the most up-to-date schedule, visit our schedule page at: http://www.espnamerica.com/tv-schedule
This says almost nothing, and with the Spring Training games only a couple of days away, a look at the website reveals they haven’t done much. Once again all of this year’s scheduled Spring Training games for broadcast are from Florida, They are carrying a Tigers-Braves game on March 3, six days after the Grapefruit League opens, the next scheduled broadcast is a Yankees-Red Sox match-up 12 days later on March 15, followed by a Red Sox-Phillies game almost a week after that on March 21.
Why there are so few games is extremely hard to understand. Even harder is the lack of games in Arizona. Perhaps ESPN has failed to notice that both of last year’s World Series teams are in the Cactus League?
On the second question, there is in fact an improvement. If you try to print out a day of the ESPN America schedule, this year the whole day prints. It isn’t formatted for print, and the entire first page is a big black splotch. But it works (although you have to write in what day it is yourself since that information is above the page with the big black splotch.)
They do offer a monthly overview in PDF, but this is less useful for two reasons. One, ESPN America has a tendency to make it available first one or two weeks into the month, and secondly, they often change their schedules as late as the day of broadcast. You can’t trust the PDF.
A few years ago ESPN America’s predecessor NASN was just about the only way to watch baseball in Europe. But that isn’t the case anymore. With a subscription to MLB.TV, not only can you watch every game on a computer (and many on iPhones and iPads) rather than just the handful from ESPN, you can also pipe them into your TV from a PlayStation 3.
So listen ESPN, you don’t have a monopoly any more, there is an alternative. If you keep messing us up, we’ll just go with the alternative and cancel our subscriptions with you.
Here on the last day of Spring Training we can look back at the coverage those of us living in Europe have been able to enjoy from NASN, the North American Sports Network. It’s wonderful that we can watch baseball at all, but one has to wonder why every single game this Spring has been from Florida?
What happened to the Cactus League in Arizona? Not a single game.
Possibly more upsetting, NASN didn’t bother to let us watch either of the two games between the Dodgers and the Padres from Beijing. You can get a glimpse of them for free from MLB.com, a video feed from China with play-by-play from a TV studio in San Diego. It looks fascinating, and how wonderful if might have been to see those history-making games on our TV sets.
Today NASN is actually leaving Florida to show us yesterday’s Civil Rights game in Memphis, but that’s probably because there are no games left in Florida. It’s bad enough that major sports news sites have a habit of ignoring games in the West, which tend to finish after East Coast writers want to go to bed. But what has prevented NASN from showing a little Arizona baseball?
All this will be forgotten, of course, as soon as the season starts in the US (NASN did give us the two opening of the season games in Japan). But one hopes the same error isn’t made next year. Of course, then we’ll have the World Baseball Classic to enjoy, and that most certainly will not be restricted to Florida!