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MLB umpires will get a new view this season – on Zoom


NEW YORK — Referees will have a new view this season: on Zoom.

Major League Baseball has entered into an agreement with Zoom Video Communications Inc. allowing on-field umpires to watch videos being evaluated by the replay operations center during disputed calls.

MLB first adopted instant replay in September 2008 for home calls and expanded it to a wide variety of decisions for the 2014 season. There were 1,434 video reviews last season which included 1,261 team challenges, 50.2% of which led to canceled calls.

Until now, the field team leader listened to the replay referee in New York with audio only, joined by the referee who made the initial call if different from the team leader. Umpires headed to the side of the pitch until 2013 to listen on headphones, then from 2014-21 an attendant brought them headphones onto the pitch. Last year, umpires switched to a wireless belt pack, and MLB made it possible for the first time to announce replays and decisions on ballpark PA systems.

This year, referees on the pitch will have 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets presented to them by a technician. They will be connected to the Zoom contact center and the replay operations center so they can see which replay is being watched. The replay referee always receives the final call.

“You’ll be able to see who’s sitting in the chair, who might be with that person, what rooms they’re looking at, and be able to pair visual interaction with the traditional audio interaction they have when discussing the call on the pitch,” said Chris Marinak, MLB’s director of operations and strategy.

A limited number of shows will have access to Zoom videos seen by umpires: Apple TV+ and MLB Network Showcase TV shows. Marinak said the new technology could become available for post-season telecasts, and baseball stadium video cards will have access to Zoom views of telecasts — which will be branded with the company.

Zoom will also be used by MLB on day one of the amateur draft in Seattle on July 9. It’s too early to determine if Zoom can be integrated into robotic plate umpires, with the automated ball-hitting system being tested throughout Triple-A this season. .

“This whole ecosystem is open to innovation and experimentation,” Marinak said. “We are absolutely going to try things out and see what sticks. For ABS, I think it’s too early to say that we’re set on a particular process and technology for the long term. I think we still do a lot of experimentation and are open to really anything as we try things at the minor league level.

Zoom, launched in 2011, has been increasingly used by MLB teams during the pandemic. For much of 2021 and 22, Zoom replaced in-person media availabilities for players and managers.

“They’ve been customers for many years using our meetings, our rooms, our phone technology, and then deeper integrations, as we know over the last few years the way people have leveraged video has really evolved,” said Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s Chief Marketing Officer. “What I think it’s going to do is add that technology where it doesn’t get in the way of the game. I think that’s essential. And it’s going to bring fans into the experience.


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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.