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With At Bat 12, MLB Pitches New Features And New Pricing

For the hard-wired and digitally wired baseball fan, the season doesn't start when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. It starts when At Bat reports to the iTunes store. The wildly popular app, made by MLB Advanced Media (BAM for short), puts live game video, live stats, and the latest news and scores at your fingertips on a smart phone or tablet.

On Wednesday At Bat 12 showed up looking like a perennial All-Star who'd dared to retool his swing in the off-season in pursuit of even better stats. After all, this is the top sports app in iTunes that Major League Baseball's digital subsidiary is tinkering with, traditionally one of the top-grossing apps each year. "Economically, I'd say it's about as big a risk as we've taken," BAM's president and CEO Bob Bowman told Fast Company. (Look for our profile of this unlikely tech powerhouse in the upcoming April issue.)

For the first time, At Bat is a single, or universal, app and it offers an all-inclusive price, which is more convenient than the previous model. Last year, At Bat for the iPhone and iPad were separate apps ($15 each). A subscription to MLB.TV, the service that streams every baseball game (except for local games, which every team save the Jays, Padres and Yankees black out to avoid competing with the TV broadcast) cost up to $120. It took three transactions—costing up to $150—to get the same service on the different devices. This year, you download At Bat 12 for free and then upgrade, $15 for an app with highlights and other features, or $125 for everything—the premium version of the streaming service and the iPhone and iPad apps.

At Bat 12

"We had 80,000 people who bought it twice last year," Bowman says of At Bat. "Some of them took the time to write me an email about what they thought about that." They were as subtle as Bobby Valentine reacting to a bad call.

Right off the bat, BAM has to make up the lost revenue from app purchases that are no longer necessary. Diehard fans, like those who attended BAM's Fan Upfront on Tuesday night at Manhattan's Chelsea Market and previewed this year's products, will almost certainly spring for the comprehensive plan. Nearly 90 % of MLB.TV subscribers renew despite the fact that renewal isn't automatic the way a cable service such as HBO is.

The more significant financial hit comes from selling the lucrative subscription through the app, which Apple now requires of all app services. That means BAM pays the 30% Apple toll on its highest priced service. But Bowman is banking that the convenience of a universal app, along with the option of a monthly subscription ($3 for the app, $25 for MLB.TV) will entice new subscribers. "The risk of not doing it is probably even higher," he says. "This is where the world's going to go in a multiple device world—one login, one app, one way to access stuff."

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[Image: Flickr user Harold Neal]

See Bob Bowman at Fast Company's upcoming "Innovation Uncensored"