by Zeus Kerravala

MLB hits home run by shifting its communications to a private cloud

News Analysis
Mar 21, 2018
Cloud ComputingDigital TransformationPrivate Cloud

Major League Baseball implements Mitel-based private cloud to deliver consistent leaguewide communications.

baseball player agile jumping and flying
Credit: Thinkstock

Every industry is being impacted by digital transformation. The ability to improve the experience of those who interact with organizations is now a top priority for organizations of all sizes in almost all verticals. The first step in digital transformation is to modernize the underlying infrastructure, since this will bring the necessary levels of agility, scale and resiliency required to fuel digital initiatives.

The sports and entertainment industry is certainly not immune to this trend. In fact, every sports league is looking for ways to improve the overall fan experience to capture a greater share of entertainment spending. Entertainment is highly competitive, with many options available. Major League Baseball (MLB), in particular, has been feeling the heat as games have gotten longer and many younger fans have tuned out.

Historically in the MLB, decisions on communications infrastructure were made by individual teams, leading to a highly inconsistent experience and services that differed from location to location. In 2015, however, MLB spent about $300 million to bring Wi-Fi to every stadium. 

And now it has partnered with unified communications (UC) vendor Mitel, which will provide a centrally managed system that will deliver communications to dugouts, bullpens, press boxes and video review rooms (instant replay) at every ballpark in the major leagues.

MLB will be able to centrally record, monitor and review every phone call made during games. This will help ensure compliance with league rules and could lead to fewer visits to the mound and a faster pace of play.

Centralized communications enforce fair play

I spoke with Ray Chan, vice president of IT for the San Diego Padres, about this. He said everyone associated with MLB is concerned about ensuring fair play and believes having the league take over the communications platform makes sense. 

“The league needs a uniform platform to monitor phones and ensure they are being used in a proper way,” Chan said. “We have all operated independently before, so the technology wasn’t the same. But not all teams have the resources or IT staff to migrate their systems. MLB implementing the Mitel-based private cloud makes the most sense from a league perspective.”

It’s worth noting that Mitel is providing more than just voice. The initial deployment will include calling but also call recording and security features. Mitel offers a number of other features that could be beneficial to MLB, including video, mobile UC, team collaboration, mass notification and communication with IoT devices. 

Platform reliability critical to MLB

An interesting aspect of this implementation is that it’s more about reliability than size and scale. The overall number of phones is under 20 per stadium, since the contract encompasses only those areas that MLB needs to monitor. However, reliability is of the utmost importance.

Chan explained that communications to the dugouts or bullpens must be done on the league-approved phones for compliance purposes. In the event that the phone isn’t working, MLB rules preclude the use of mobile phones, walkie-talkies or any other external communication tools. Chan has full confidence in the Mitel solution and has firsthand experience with it, since in 2016, the Padres replaced their old Avaya system with the Mitel private cloud solution.

The upcoming MLB implementation will essentially be a mirror of the Padres’ deployment. “Mitel has been solid for us,” Chan said, adding that he expects the same for the leaguewide deployment.  

MLB deal will have a big impact on Mitel’s brand 

This deal should have a significant impact on Mitel’s brand recognition, which lags behind the larger players in the UC industry. The Mitel logo will be seen on dugout phones and on the shirts of the people handling the instant-replay systems. Mitel is usually thought of as a UC provider for small to mid-size enterprises, but it has been moving upmarket.

Mitel was the first mainstream UC vendor to virtualize its platform and offer it as a private cloud workload. I recall that when it first embarked on this journey, most vendors wouldn’t even consider it. But for organizations with sensitive data that needs to be managed and analyzed, private clouds make more sense.

Digital transformation is a top initiative now for business and IT leaders across every industry. CIOs should take notice of what MLB is doing. The needs of every business are different, but digital success follows the path of infrastructure modernization. The consistency of communications has been extremely difficult to achieve when the systems in each location are different and unfortunately, that’s the norm. A centralized private cloud, like the one MLB is deploying, can deliver that consistency but also superior scale and agility.