MLB beats the hell out of Upper Deck

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Major League Baseball sued the Upper Deck baseball card company about a month ago for releasing baseball cards with team logos and stuff without having a license to do so. The case settled yesterday.  All that’s missing from the settlement terms is a provision which requires Upper Deck’s CEO to be Bud Selig’s butler for the next ten years:

  • Upper Deck pays MLB more than $2.4
    million it owed on back debts.  The suit was for $2.4 million. If you’re settling for the requested amount a month after the complaint was filed you have been pwned.
  • Upper Deck pays MLB “a substantial
    sum of monies” for the unlicensed cards it sold in 2010.  The amount is confidential, but based on the other terms, it was probably a lot.
  • Upper Deck agrees not to make any new sets of cards using “MLB logos, uniforms, trade dress, or Club color combinations.”  Color combinations? I’ve got very little intellectual property law experience, but if someone has the rights to use his photo and everything, can they really get sued for putting out a card of, say, Nick Swisher with a simple navy and white border?  If so, is MLB going to go after every blog, magazine, sports bar, advertisement and everything else that uses a team’s colors? Seems a bit much.
  • Upper Deck agrees it will not airbrush, alter or block MLB marks in future products.  Which is really sad, because I kinda miss cards like this one. And this one, on which people always miss the airbrushing for some strange reason. The last place were we get that kind of craftsmanship is when ESPN or Yahoo! change the players’ hats and jerseys in their little player-page headshots after they’re traded.
  • Upper Deck must receive approval from MLB for the use of baseball
    jerseys, pants, jackets, caps, helmets or catcher’s equipment in future
    products featuring players. This too is harsh. So much so that I get the feeling MLB just put this one in the demand letter to see if Upper Deck would agree to it. They’re probably laughing now. If I was Upper Deck, however, I’d use this term to my advantage. Next year: baseball’s first all-nude card set.  Now that Antonio Alfonseca is retired it’s probably safe enough to dip a toe into those waters.

Oh, and one last thing.  The statement released by MLB:

“Our settlement in the case against Upper Deck is a clear and decisive
victory for Major League Baseball. Upper Deck will be unable to release baseball trading cards that
incorporate Major League Baseball’s intellectual property in the
future.  The real winners today are the millions of fans who collect
baseball cards.  They will be able to clearly identify official Major
League Baseball trading cards without any confusion.”

Last rule of a settlement: if you can’t get the other guy to agree to some sort of neutral joint statement that doesn’t have someone declaring victory, it is less a settlement than it is a total reaming.  Come to think of it, Upper Deck should have just offered the butler thing and taken their chances with a jury if it didn’t work out.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

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Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.