The T-Mobile Tipping Point…

At first the announcement of T-Mobile as the new Telecommunications partner for Major League Baseball may seem like just a mega-sponsorship deal for MLB in a coveted category. However it signals a growing but very slow in the in-game adaptation of technology effectively into Major League sports in North America, especially in baseball, a sport built on statistics and analytics but one that keeps mobile, tablets and even laptops well away from the confines of the dugout. Now all that begins to change.

Teams now will have the choice on whether to use mobile phones and docking stations with T-Mobile branding to make their calls to the bullpen, a departure from the long-held tradition of picking up a phone, with a cord, to summon their next pitcher to be ready for his appearance. In a sport that has pioneered Moneyball and Sabermetrics, team executives and coaches still have to take all the analytic technology they have assembled and print out massive binders to bring into the dugout, when laptops and tablets are only feet away in the video room and clubhouse. Not only do all those binders create reams of useless paper for a sport that prides itself on being green, it is terribly inefficient in time management. The T-Mobile deal, which is a great boost for the sponsor coffers of MLB, can also help usher in the use of technology to the playing field.

Other sports at the professional level suffer from the same lack of technological innovation still, much of which will probably come with similar sponsorship deals in the near future. Whiteboards on court will be replaced at some point soon with tablets, and if the download capacity is fast enough, could also tie in real time video. In football, still pictures from atop the stadium and massive charts held by coordinators will be replaced by touch screens and will make the work quicker and easier. Head phones on the sideline which had Motorola sponsorships in years past, and this year had NFL logos, should also be replaced by smaller, more efficient wireless units.

The transition won’t be without growing pains. Wireless head phones in NFL helmets have failed from time to time this year as they have in others, and the wireless signals in many stadia, especially older ones, is still spotty. Still all one has to do is look to the innovation in race of NASCAR and Formula 1 to see how technology can assist both the athlete and his team while the action goes on at a breakneck speed.  While some may say being more analytic and using technology takes another human element out of the games at the professional level, the fact remains that there are simple aids that can help streamline the complex work that coaches, under pressure already, do in the heat of battle. And if fewer mistakes mean less of a human element, so be it.

Last year the movie “Real Steel” gave a futuristic look into boxing, with robots taking the place of humans. However what was more telling was the use of technology…cameras and tablets, to aid the robots action. That technology is used today in grammar schools and is certainly used behind the scenes by countless athletes and coaches to improve their game and help teams hone the million dollar investment they make in talent. Not using that technology more in game situations is quaint, but the time has come, with MLB and T-Mobile hopefully leading the way this past week.

Smart and timely, and the start of what will probably be an accelerated adaption period for team sports at the highest level.