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Friday Night Baseball is back, but Apple needs to step up to the plate

Major League Baseball is returning to Apple TV Plus for its second season, and with no more free games, Apple has a lot on the line. Last year’s inaugural season of Friday Night Baseball was ultimately a tough outing. The company swung for the fences but struck out in a couple of key areas critical to sports broadcasting, most notably its announcing crews.

Despite this, however, there were flashes of Apple-fuelled brilliance, such as the quality of broadcast streams and an incredibly clean broadcast interface. So how is this season shaping up? And will Apple be able to appease and ultimately draw in baseball’s die-hard fanbase? Here’s your preview for Friday Night Baseball, season 2.

A new season is at hand

It’s clear that Apple is heavily invested in its Friday Night Baseball project, as evidenced by the fact that the show is now available in 60 countries, up from just 12 last year. That MLB on Apple TV is expanding is a sure sign that the company is continuing to invest and grow the product, and sees this as a long-term opportunity.

Apple is bringing back Friday Night Baseball in largely the same format as last year, with two games shown each week throughout the season. Two things fans can definitely look forward to are excellent broadcast quality and a stunningly minimalist interface. Last year, the broadcast quality was so good that many fans thought it was 4K, even though it turned out to be 1080p and 60fps.

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Fans also loved the cleaner experience of the broadcast, with Apple overlaying play with a simple scorebox in the top right-hand corner. There were no sponsorships, banners, or any other intrusive graphics to speak of. Indeed, it had some fans calling for Apple to start picking up NBA games to broadcast too.

There’s definitely room for some improvement, however, one fan noted some pretty low-effort starting lineup graphics, showing that less is not always more when it comes to sports broadcasting.

Roster changes

(Image credit: Apple)

The big change, and the most-needed one this year, is an all-new announcer team of “exceptional” broadcast talent. The announcement last year was, let’s face it, a disaster. Off-topic rambling, incessant talking, and unenthusiastic home run calls overshadowed what was otherwise shaping up to be a positive debut season. This is why Apple has put so much effort into its talent this year, and so much emphasis on it in the new season announcement.

This year fans will be treated to the play-by-play chops of Wayne Randazzo and Alex Faust. The former joins from the Mets WCBS radio booth, the latter from the NHL’s LA Kings TV broadcasting outfit. Despite opting for more seasoned announcers, both are relatively young at 38 and 34 years old respectively, showing Apple is still at least somewhat committed to trying to innovate in the baseball scene, choosing not to bring in veterans instead.

A host of former MLB players, journalists, and two umpires will join pre-and postgame coverage to help fans break down the new rules for 2023. Notably, a new pitch clock promises to vastly reduce the length of games and the time between action. MLB found the pitch clock shortened minor league games by an average of 25 minutes, while also increasing batting averages and stolen base attempts. There was also a noticeable decrease in injuries and strikeouts.

The age old question

(Image credit: Future)

The other challenge Apple faces this year is the universal sports-broadcasting dilemma of making games more accessible in a competitive market. In general, fans want to pay as little as possible to watch as many games as possible, with as few blackouts as possible.

Adding Apple TV Plus to the baseball broadcasting mix provides more competition and innovation in the space. However, fans who want to watch all of this year’s games must now pay $6.99 a month for Apple TV Plus and will need an Apple ID plus a compatible device to watch. That’s not a huge inconvenience for most, but some of the earliest murmurings about Apple TV Plus’ baseball offering on Twitter were general discontentment that fans now had to sign up for yet another avenue to watch baseball games. And that was last year when the games were all free.

It’s very easy to lose Friday Night Baseball listings in the throng of the best Apple TV Plus shows and movies on the streaming platform. With Apple’s MLS streaming deal locked in for ten years, the time has never been riper for Apple to lay the groundwork for a dedicated sports broadcasting app and platform.

Apple offers My Sports in its News App, through Live Activities and Widgets, and of course through Apple TV and Apple TV Plus. Perhaps Apple is waiting for more success in the sporting space before it takes the plunge, but I’d argue that a new Apple Sports app is fundamental to making its efforts successful.  

Sports and Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

There are other ways that Apple can continue to innovate in the sports broadcasting industry, with the company continuing to push 5.1 surround sound and Spatial Audio, as well as high-quality camera shots and drone footage. 

This is a make-or-break year for Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV Plus, and it remains to be seen how fans will respond to all of Apple’s changes for season 2. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you should definitely be rooting for Apple on this one, because success here could pave the way for incredible sports on Apple for years to come.

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TECH GADGET

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