Bloomberg Sports Product a Worthwhile Work in Process
I spent yesterday afternoon in New York City, on Manhattan’s upper east-side. I was one of 200 media types from around the country who flocked to Bloomberg Tower on Lexington Avenue, as Bloomberg Sports unveiled its new baseball products at the company’s corporate headquarters.
Some Background On The Company
Bloomberg L.P. is the financial services company that was founded in 1981 by current New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. It has grown into a Fortune 500 company due to its ability to compile and analyze financial data, and then present that information to its customer base in an easily understood and visually appealing manner.
Bloomberg Sports will take those core corporate competencies and translate them into the sports marketplace, starting with its professional baseball analytics.
BBGSports has two new baseball products: 1) a professional package that is currently being used by most MLB teams (on a trial basis), and 2) a streamlined consumer application that will be marketed to fans (generally) and fantasy baseball devotees (specifically).
For the purpose of this article, I’ll restrict my observations to the consumer application.
The Presentation Was Lacking
In order to provide context for my comments, I must confess I left New York City largely unsatisfied by what transpired during the event. IMO, the media was given an all-too-brief and cursory glimpse behind the curtain in Oz.
I arrived in New York City expecting there would be a demonstration version of the product available for the media to “play with”… something that would allow us to utilize the software interactively and attain a working understanding of its capabilities. Instead, we were presented with a classroom-style lecture that could have been provided on a webcast— thereby saving people time and money.
Imagine yourself in a college lecture hall with your economics professor standing in front of the room and an image of his computer monitor projected on a white-screen behind him. Yesterday, we were confronted by much the same scenario, except BBGS substituted software developers for the Econ 101 professor.
The format had inherent limitations. Lectures are dry. For the most part, the computer screen that was projected overhead was unreadable. And the listeners were passive, not active.
Thus, I am unable to give as much in the way of a specific, detailed analysis as I had hoped to...but there are still some general observations that can be made with respect to the product.
The Product Has a Draft Kit and an In-Season Toolbox
The BBGS Product
The dumbed-down consumer product geared for fans and fantasy aficionados will be released on (or about) February 18th, timed to coincide with the arrival of pitchers and catchers at spring training sites across Arizona and Florida.
It contains two components: a fantasy draft kit and an in-season toolbox.
The fantasy draft kit is priced at $14.95...The in-season toolbox will cost $24.95. Both items can be purchased for the discounted rate of $31.95.
The software is evolving. For want of a better term, I’d say it's in its infancy. But the good news is BBGS seems to understand the limitations of the current product and appears sincere in its desire to engage users, solicit constructive criticism, and incorporate the feedback into an improved product.
Steve Orban, the research and development manager for BBGS, told me that there is still work to be done with the consumer product, but that he has a plan for what will need to be done in the next month...and in the month after that...and so on.
Some of the information available through the BBGS product will be available to non-subscribers on mlb.com—ostensibly to give them a taste of what is available behind the pay wall—but most of the data and graphics will be restricted to subscribers only.
One of the writers who attended yesterday’s event conjectured the free/paid distinction will be similar to that of the Baseball Prospectus website.
The Software Has Limitations
First, the bad news: what the software doesn’t do:
As I am an auction-format guy, I view the draft kit’s most significant limitation to be the fact that the analytics don’t yet rely upon or assign dollar values. It won’t analyze or track pre-draft inflation or in-draft inflationary changes based on auction budgets, positional scarcity, statistical scarcity or other factors. Thus it must be said that the DRAFT kit is exactly what the name says—a tool designed for use in drafts, but not in auctions.
The second limitation regarding the draft kit is that the BBGS rankings are based upon a metric that the company referred to as the "B-rank" - BBGS' own, self-described "secret sauce". The developers declared the metric to be proprietary and declined numerous invitations to share their recipe. Thus, as the product is new, we can't assess the accuracy of the company's projected rankings... and with the formula unavailable to be examined, we can't assess the saliency of the company's approach to projections and rankings.
The third limitation with respect to the draft kit is that users will be unable to manipulate the data to match the requirements of their own leagues. Rankings have been developed based on the parameters of a standard 5x5 mixed league. While the data can be sorted to make comparisons based on different statistical parameters, formats (AL-only or NL-only), etc, the underlying basis of the rankings remains a model based on standard 5x5 statistics in a mixed league. So, if you are competing in the National Fantasy Baseball Championships in Las Vegas in March, this may be just the thing you are looking for... but if you are competing in a 4x4 auction league in Springfield, MA, in April, then maybe not so much.
Finally, surprisingly, BBGS will not be augmenting the sabermetrics universe - at least not at this time. The company is not developing and selling a new metric, rather it's selling a database that collates information and provides subscribers with the capability to peruse and analyze already-existing data.
The BBGS Product Can Do Some Very Nice Things
And now the good news...what the software DOES do:
That last observation provides a segue into this topic. Keeping in mind what the product can't do, let’s look at what it DOES do, because based on our brief peek behind the curtain, it appears it does these things VERY well.
And it seems to me that subscribers will be quite pleased with the product—if they purchase it with an accurate understanding of what it is and realistic expectation as to what it can do.
First, BBGS has partnered with MLB and MLB Advanced Media to provide subscribers with most of the statistical information a fan or fantasy devotee could possibly want; furthermore, the software tool is customizable and permits the user to add any stats he/she may wish to add. The software will gather the data, aggregate it, and present it to users with the same kind of graphics the parent company is famous for providing to its investors.
(This screen capture shows the rankings page in the draft kit)
The Graphics Menu Will Be Unique And Varied
Second, the graphics themselves will be invaluable for many users.
Of particular interest to me is the spider graph (see screen shot). It provides the user with a snapshot comparison of any player to a selected comparison pool using an assortment of statistical benchmarks.
The Database Will Enable Users To Make Assorted Comparisons
Third, the software will collate and analyze data.
Users will be able to manipulate the data as they desire to make player comparisons based on the specific attributes of their league(s), specific periods of time, etc.
The aforementioned ranking feature will allow users to compare and contrast players based on various statistical categories/metrics of their choice...and it provides the supporting graphics to illustrate the comparisons.
(See the screen capture of the player comparison tool)
The News Service Will Provide Both BBGS And Web-Supplied Content
Fourth, BBGS will provide a news service component that will provide BBGS-generated content as well as scrape news from MLB, Rotowire and a variety of media sources (including www.sox1fan.com).
The BBGS writing team will be headed by well-known baseball writer Jonah Keri... the full team of writers has yet to be finalized.
The news component will be provided in two ways: both within a news tab and on a ticker across the bottom of the screen. (See screen capture)
Overall, The Strengths Outweigh The Shortcomings...And The Product Will Only Get Better
While the BBGS product initially has a variety of limitations, none of them are insurmountable either in the short-term or the long-term. The company has some of the most talented people in any industry supporting its products.
In line with Bloomberg’s overall approach to business development and retention, the developers know enough to seek constructive criticism, evaluate the feedback, and incorporate the input into an increasingly improved and responsive product.
The draft kit will be useful to SOME people in 2010… my guess is that it will be increasingly useful to others over the course of the next few years.
The in-season toolbox should be valuable to most of the baseball universe immediately, if only because of the comparison capability, the graphics, and the central database.