Pennant iPad App Reinvents The Baseball Encyclopedia

Pennant

If you're a big baseball fan you probably remember the Baseball Encyclopdia.  The most recent edition from Macmillan is now 15 years old.  It was loaded with career stats and box scores but apparently became too unweildy to keep up-to-date.  The Baseball Encyclopedia was always a terrific reference but not something you'd typically spend a lot of time immersed in.

I recently discovered a new iPad app that provides details of every major league baseball game played in the past 60 years.  It's called Pennant and it's not a boring data dump like the Baseball Encyclopedia; it's a highly engaging app that's hard to put down.

The Pennant app lets me relive the 1971 World Series, one play at a time.  My (former) hometown Pirates beat the Orioles in 7 games and I get to see exactly what happened each step of the way.  This isn't just a bunch of box scores.  Pennant represents a whole new imaginative way of envisioning box scores.  As soon as I saw this video I was ready to cough up $5 for the Pennant app:

Why is this so special and what does it have to do with publishing?  I'm inspired by how the developers of Pennant took the box score, something that hasn't changed much in about 100 years, and came up with a rich iPad app that brings all those old games back to life.  There are plenty of features I'd love to see added to Pennant (e.g., career stats by player) but if baseball statistics can be recast like this, imagine how any type of content coud be completely reinvented in the tablet era.


Envisioning iPad Apps

Appstore_20100127The more I play with my iPad Nano, also known as my iPhone, the more I realize the potential the bigger screen will offer.  This is the time of year when I go out and buy a Major League Baseball preview magazine.  My old favorite, Street & Smith's, was rebranded as Sporting News awhile back, so I picked one of those up last weekend.

What did I get for my $8 investment?  The same type of season preview guide I've seen for the past 30+ years.  That's great, but why not create something to take advantage of today's (and tomorrow's) technologies?

There's a Sporting News app for baseball.  It's a free alternative to and offers a subset of the features offered in MLB's own $14.99 app (which happens to be one of the best apps in the entire store, btw).

Rather than creating a poor man's MLB app I think Sporting News should have broght their preview guide to life as a different type of app.  I'm not talking about a quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversion.  What's needed here is a dynamic guide, something that's always up-to-date from spring training till the bottles are uncorked after the World Series.

Players get cut, traded, put on the disabled list, etc.  My $8 print product is already out of date.  So why not offer an app with the same content for, say, $4.99 and charge me a dollar or two every month for updates?  Another option is to let me buy the full season's guide for $9.99.  Either way Sporting News gets more money out of the deal than they did on my $8 print purchase.

More importantly, think about how this sort of content would render on an iPad!  Those rich images in my color preview guide would come to life in the form of videos and other rich content.  And rather than the limited view box scores you get on the iPhone, imagine a scorecard display on the iPad.  You hook up to the game in the 5th inning and the app shows what looks like the official scorekeeper's sheet with pitch-by-pitch details of the game, all on one screen.  Let's see someone do that on an iPhone.

Speaking of improved renderings on the iPad (vs. iPhone)...  I recently discovered the Tech Junkie iPhone app.  This is a terrific product that lets you aggregate all the popular tech news sites into one app.  If you're into technology and you have an iPhone you need to invest 99 cents in this one.  It's great on an iPhone but I can't wait to see it on an iPad.  There's way too much scrolling required on the iPhone but that will be less of a problem on the larger device.

Why isn't there a premium, paid upgrade option for apps like Tech Junkie with more features?  I'd pay $5 for the app and a couple of dollars per month (minimum!) if this would just do one simple thing: Push the content to me and don't force me to go out and retrieve it.  It's the same complaint I have about the New York Times app.  The free version is terrific but I'd pay a monthly subscription if the content would come to me instead of me having to click and save each individual article.  I was told once that the NYT app doesn't do that because of the volume of data it would require.  I don't buy it.  Configure it so that it only happens when I'm on wifi or charge me more for 3G.

I can't be the only person looking to dump all my print magazine and newspaper subscriptions for e-replacements.  This push vs. pull issue is a critical feature that's largely missing in today's apps, and one that could generate a lot of revenue.  Here's to hoping Apple's iPad is more successful than Amazon's Kindle has been at getting more newspaper and magazine publishers to recognize this opportunity.


Why Aren't Magazine Publishers Thinking About This Stuff?!

Question Mark I let my Sports Illustrated subscription lapse awhile back but my wife was kind enough to renew it last year for my birthday.  While catching up on my SI reading tonight, I happened to notice all the references inside to si.com/vault.

Have you seen that site?  If not, take a look.  It's a full archive of SI and it's freely accessible to everyone, even if you're not a subscriber.  I've been doing searches on it for the past hour or so and I'm rediscovering all sorts of great SI content from when I was a kid.  I could probably waste away the rest of the night searching for things like "70's Pirates", "Roberto Clemente", etc.

OK, it's not that uncommon for magazines to open their archives like this, so what's the big deal?  I don't have all night to search and read this stuff.  Why doesn't SI marry this content to an e-strategy that they could further monetize?  How about letting me search for "Roberto Clemente" and offering to create a PDF, an EPUB or a mobi file I can pull down to my computer, Kindle, Sony Reader, etc.?  Go ahead and include the ads -- I'm fine seeing them in here.  Or, sell it to me ad-free for $4.99.  I'm not going to sit and read this on my computer for hours but I'd love to have it on my Kindle where I'll read every last word.

SI publishes a variety of books built off content that was published in their magazine long ago.  They have "best of" books on all the major sports.  Why not let me create my own based on the writers or topics I'm most interested in?  Steve Rushin was my favorite sportswriter, but he "retired" a few years ago.  I'd love to gather all his articles into a Kindle book.  I'd even be willing to break my $9.99 Kindle price ceiling for something like that!

Then there's the gift angle.  Wouldn't it be cool to create a custom e-book of SI content for the sports-lover in your family?  Think about the Father's Day promotions they could do around this.

So again, I'll ask the question, why aren't magazine publishers thinking about this stuff?  They seem to be heading down the same rat hole the newspapers have gone down.  Quit whining and start leveraging your content archives!!!


The Game, by Ken Dryden

The game As a hockey fan growing up in the late '60's and early '70's, Ken Dryden was one of my heroes.  The Canadiens seemed to always win the Stanley Cup in those years and Dryden was the goalie to watch in the '70's.  The Game chronicles the latter stage of his career and provides a great deal of insight into the NHL, the Canadiens and, of course, Dryden himself.

My favorite part of this book is when he takes the time to drill down deeper into the quirky personalities of certain teammates.  When you think of the Canadiens of the '70's, players like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Guy Lapointe, Steve Shutt, and of course, coach Scotty Bowman come to mind.  Dryden devotes much of The Game to coverage of teammates, coaches and even trainers, all written in the cerebral style he was known for throughout his career.

Any true hockey fan will want to read this book, regardless of how much or little you know about Dryden and Canadiens history.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the NHL today is where it stands after the 2004-05 lockout.  Although Dryden didn't touch on this in The Game, he offered these prescient thoughts towards the end of the book (and his NHL career):
Expansion and the WHA behind it, it will be a time to turn inward, to put its (the NHL's) unwieldy house in order.  Like an aging adolescent having grown too fast, it will get reacquainted with its parts, get them in hand, and do something with them.  It will be a time for realism, and stability, for chastened hopes and dreams deferred--except one.  Off ice, the whispered word will be "cable."  But it will represent a more modest dream this time, and more realizable, if the promised bonanza is only for some.  It is time for a deep breath, a pause, a time to return the game to the ice.  For that is the real tragedy of the 1970s, and the real opportunity for the 1980s.  It is on the ice that its next great challenge lies.
Gee, he could have written much of that in the last 3 years and it would have been just as applicable.  The league is on the rebound but the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, the ultimate hockey championship, are relegated to the Versus network.  Ugh.  I even had to bite the bullet and sign up for Versus network service yesterday so that I could watch games 1 and 2, featuring my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins against the evil Detroit Red Wings.

How sad is that?  The Stanley Cup Finals start out on some third-tier cable network.  Maybe it's time to toss Gary Bettman out as NHL commissioner and replace him with someone like Ken Dryden...

Heather Johnson Guest-Blogging About Baseball Books

Ball_fourIf variety is the spice of life, other voices are probably the most important spice of the blogosphere.  With that in mind, look for the occasional "Publishing 2020 open mike night" as I encourage others in the community to post their opinions as guest bloggers.  First up, Heather Johnson, and she's here to talk about one of her passions: baseball books.

Top 5 Baseball Books to Read this Summer, by Heather Johnson

What is better than curling up with a great book on your favorite beach in the summer? Well, maybe only one thing: reading a great baseball book. It seems the number of books about baseball has gone through the roof in recent years as every two-bit player that toiled in the minors is writing a tell-all about his time riding the buses from one town not listed on a map to another. If you're tired of sifting through the titles that will never make it to the big leagues, consider these great reads:

  1. Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. There have been many tell-alls to hit the bookstores over the years but Ball Four is the gold standard. Its greatness is not even just due to its recounting of Mickey Mantle's drinking day, rather, its true greatness emerges when we see how much the game meant to Bouton and how he'd do nearly anything to stay in the game for just one more turn on the mound. This is a must-read for any true fan of the game.
  2. Bill James' Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. This is the Bible of books dedicated to the numbers of baseball. No other sport has a rich appreciation for statistics as baseball and Bill James is the authoritative figure in this realm. James ranks players at every position throughout the history of the major leagues and this is sure to spark a heated debate around your beach blanket.
  3. Jerrold Casway's Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball . This fascinating work chronicles the best hitter many people have never heard of and his contributions to the game. In the latter part of the 19th century, first generation Irish-Americans ruled the sport and brought a new, aggressive style of play to the game. Ed Delahanty was a tragic hero as his lifestyle contributed to a shorter career – a career that would have rivaled that of Babe Ruth.
  4. Bill Littlefield's Prospect. This popular NPR host shows his flair for the game in this wonderful, little novel that follows a prospect through the eyes of an incredulous scout. The scout feels as much pride as the prospect when he finally makes it to the big leagues.
  5. Jim Collins' The Last Best League. This production is a magnificent insight into the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts. The amateur summer league is considered the premiere league of its kind and Collins does a masterful job of portraying the game and the community in this effort.

Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and credit writer, as well as a regular contributor for Business Credit Cards, a site for comparing business credit cards. She welcomes questions, comments, and freelancing job inquiries at her email address heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.