NEW YORK – Umpires will have a new view this season: on Zoom.
Major League Baseball struck a deal with Zoom Video Communications Inc. allowing on-field umpires to watch the replay operations center evaluating contested calls.
MLB first adopted instant replay in September 2008 for home boundary calls and expanded it to a wide variety of decisions for the 2014 season. There were 1,434 video reviews last season that included 1,261 team challenges with 50.2% leading to overturned calls.
Until now, the on-field crew chief listened to the replay umpire in New York with audio only, joined by the umpire who made the initial call if different from the crew chief. The umps walked over to the side of the field through 2013 to listen on a headset, then from 2014-21 an attendant brought out a headset to the field for them. Last year, umps switched to a wireless belt pack and MLB for the first time allowed then to announce replays and decisions over ballpark public address systems.
On-field umps this year will have 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets brought out to them by a technician. They will be connected to the Zoom contact center and the replay operations center so they can see what replay is being viewed. The replay umpire still gets the final call.
“You’ll be able to see who’s in the chair, who might be with that person, what plays they’re looking at, and be able to pair a visual interaction with the traditional audio interaction that they have discussing the call in the field,” MLB Chief Operations and Strategy Officer Chris Marinak said.
A limited number of broadcasts will have access to the Zoom videos being seen by the umps: Apple TV+ and MLB Network Showcase telecasts. Marinak said the new technology could become available for postseason telecasts, and ballpark videoboards will have access to the Zoom views on the telecasts – which will have the company’s branding.
Zoom also will be used by MLB during the first day of the amateur draft in Seattle on July 9. It’s too early to determine whether Zoom can be incorporated into robot plate umpires, the automated ball-strike system being tested throughout Triple-A this season.
“That whole ecosystem is open for innovation and experimentation,” Marinak said. “We’re absolutely going to try things out and see what sticks. For ABS, I think it’s too early to say that we’re settled on one particular process and technology in the long-run. We’re still I think doing a lot of experimentation and open to really anything as we try things out at the minor league level.”
Zoom, launched in 2011, was 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 a customer for many years utilizing our meetings, our rooms our phone technology and then deeper integrations as we know over the past few years, the way in which 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’s not getting in the way of the game. I think that that’s critical. And it’s going to bring the fans into the experience.”