TL; DR: Major League Baseball Advanced Media is the technology group in charge of keeping a more than 100-year-old sport thriving in the digital era. When MLBAM wanted to develop its latest innovation, Statcast, it turned to Amazon Web Services for the reliability, scalability, and security its cloud infrastructure provided. AWS Cloud proved to be a cost-effective platform for its game-changing application with unlimited storage for the 17 petabytes of data it generated each season and the ability to scale down during off-season months. Statcast has been a huge hit for baseball fans, creating a new set of numbers for baseball fans to obsess over and helping MLB deliver a new level of real-time engagement during broadcasts.
America’s favorite pastime was past due for a facelift. Founded in 1903, Major League Baseball was looking to harness the power of big data in a way that would delight its fan base.
Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the digital arm of the league, developed Statcast, an advanced tracking system to capture and broadcast more advanced metrics in real time to a fan base already notorious for its obsession with statistics.
Joe Inzerillo, Chief Technology Officer for MLBAM, was also paying attention to the numbers — those of a financial and data storage nature — when his team chose to develop Statcast on the Amazon Web Services cloud.
“At MLB, we are very committed to the fan and getting that fan what they want and when they want it,” Joe said. “To do that, we need next-generation technology and we need partners that know how to innovate. When we looked at who was going to help us power Statcast, there was only one real clear choice. It had to be AWS.”
The high-tech system, which employs a series of high-definition cameras and radar technology, was installed in all 30 MLB parks prior to opening day in 2015. The sheer amount of data that the technology platform would need to process and store for the system to succeed contributed to the MLB’s decision to build its business application on the AWS Cloud.
Statcast is measuring detailed information on every player on the field during every pitch of every game, with an average of 7TB accumulated by the time players are gathering for the post-game press conference. When you consider that 2,430 games are played during the course of the season, that adds up to approximately 17 petabytes of data each year. And since baseball fans would naturally want to compare one season’s plays to previous seasons, MLB needed to be able to store and access data from every season.
MLB also needed the flexibility to process data in real time through a schedule that can have as many as 15 games per day and then scale back dramatically during offseason months when no games are played. And, perhaps most importantly, AWS infrastructure gave MLBAM’s developers a head start on getting the revolutionary product to market.
“This is really an important thing because otherwise you spend so much of your time trying to bring the infrastructure up before you can do work, as opposed to just stepping into doing work, and that was the crucial part of getting Statcast to market as quickly as we did,” Joe said.
AWS-Powered Statcast Enables Analytics on More Metrics for a Statistic-Obsessed Fan Base
Baseball is a numbers game. With each team playing 162 regular season games each season, fans become obsessed with statistics. Leaderboards exist for virtually any category, from home runs and batting averages to strikeouts and earned run averages. In fact, this obsession with numbers led to fantasy sports as we know them today.
When MLBAM built Statcast, it opened up new categories of statistics never before measured in baseball’s illustrious history. For example, the sport is now able to record numbers like how fast a ball leaves the bat and the probability of a player making a difficult diving catch.
“One of the things we’ve always wondered about is player positions and how they affect the game,” Joe said. “For example, what’s the reaction time of a shortstop? Did he go in the right direction? Did he take the right route to get there? Statcast was designed to give the fans the ability to see things that would be previously unseen.”
This new level of real-time player analysis brings serious entertainment value to the table, which is a big win for MLB fans tuning into broadcasts from multiple devices all over the country.
“What we’re trying to do with baseball is give the fans insight to the game and show how tremendous our athletes are,” Joe said. “We’re doing that with Amazon.”
Statcast has also been employed by front-office personnel, who are using these advanced metrics to determine the value of individual players. Based on the availability of Statcast data, each MLB franchise now has an analytics team that pores over the numbers, searching for competitive advantages that can help them win the pennant.
A Scalable Solution that Handles Peak-Season Data and Downsizes During Offseason Months
Unlike a lot of other businesses that operate at all times, professional sports come in seasons. And while MLB has notoriously long seasons, it does have an offseason from early November to mid-February each year.
“For the months we’re in season, we obviously have a good deal of information coming in, in addition to all of the historical data that we have,” Joe said. “In the off months, we’re not generating new information, but we are taking a look back and trying to reuse a lot of the historical information to provide greater context.”
This was another advantage of MLB using AWS, which operates on a pay-as-you-go pricing model so baseball officials are never paying for services they aren’t using.
“The ability to spin up more resources when we need them and spin them down when we don’t is a great part of the economic model that makes this possible,” Joe said.
MLBAM officials once considered an on-premise solution for Statcast, but it would require massive investments in infrastructure that would have slowed Statcast’s arrival to market. AWS also provides peace of mind that MLBAM won’t run out of storage space, which could have been an issue with constantly increasing data needs.
“We looked at using compute capabilities in all the stadiums,” said Dirk Van Dall, MLBAM’s Vice President for Multimedia Technology Development. “But distributing the data efficiently and from so many locations would have involved a lot of time and investment in expensive IT resources that would sit idle for about half the year.”
Amazon’s Cloud-Based Platform Serves as a Partner for Growth
MLBAM was founded in 2000 as a means of moving baseball into the next millennium, and the digital arm of baseball has seen tremendous success in the years since. Joe said the technology company is worth about $6 billion, mostly on the strengths of its consumer products, like MLB At Bat (its mobile application), MLB.TV (live streaming games), MLB.com, and its individual websites for all 30 teams.
“MLBAM is really in the business of bringing baseball to the next generation of fans on the devices they want to use to consume our sport,” Joe said. “That includes mobile phones, game consoles, connected TVs, and the internet. All of these things are part of our modern life, and in order for baseball to be relevant, it has to be part of that.”
Partnering with Amazon Web Services gives MLBAM the scalability to grow with advanced tools, unlimited data storage, and the infrastructure flexibility to try new ideas.
“The thing about innovation that people often don’t talk about enough is the ability to fail,” Joe said. “If you’re pushing the envelope, not everything you do should succeed.
“One of the things that’s very empowering about AWS is the ability to fail and fail quickly. That allows you to keep innovating. If you had to build data centers, see if they worked, and things like that, you would do much less risky things because you just couldn’t afford to fail.”