Double play: Intel to stream Major League Baseball games in VR

MLB will become the second pro-sports league to show a weekly game in virtual reality.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Imagine watching Cleveland Indians star Trevor Bauer pitch his tantalizing curveballs in virtual reality. Cool, eh? 

That's the reaction that Intel's virtual reality arm and Major League Baseball are hoping for as they partner up to livestream games in VR on Tuesday nights on the Intel True VR app. The weekly games are part of a three-year deal announced Thursday between Intel and MLB.


Intel is hoping for a home run with VR. 


The first matchup will see Bauer's Indians take on the Colorado Rockies  on June 6 in Denver. Fans can keep up with the action through multiple camera angles and can select which game-related statistics they want to view, said David Aufhauser, managing director of strategy and product for the Intel Sports division. 

"We're giving them many options on how they want to watch this immersive experience," he said. "We're excited about our latest offering to baseball fans."

Intel and MLB are betting big that stat-obsessed geeks will want to watch baseball in VR, which has evolved from a hobbyist pipe dream to arguably Silicon Valley's most-hyped new technologyAnalysts predict that VR revenues will climb to $75 billion by 2021, more than 10 times the projection for 2017.

According to a recent survey of 500 baseball fans that Intel conducted with Turnkey Intelligence, 71 percent of them would be interested in watching an MLB game in VR if they couldn't see it in person.

MLB is the second pro-sports league to air weekly games in VR, joining the NBA, which recently finished up the streaming of 25 games with NextVR

Intel's VR broadcast of big-league baseball games also comes after MLB announced two weeks ago the launch of a virtual reality upgrade to its popular At-Bat streaming app for Google Daydream headsets. Intel is also the latest tech company livestreaming MLB games, joining Twitter on Tuesday nights and Facebook on Fridays.

Offering baseball games on multiple platforms isn't viewed as competition, said Kenny Gersh, an executive vice president with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which oversees the league's digital properties.

"VR is an evolving space and it's another way to expand our content to fans in ways they haven't really seen before," he said, citing games broadcast on ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports as well on the MLB Network. "We've never been sort of exclusive with one network in terms of our content." 

Baseball fans watching Intel Sports' game of the week will need a Samsung Gear VR headset, a Samsung phone and the Intel True VR app from the Oculus Store.

There are signs that VR has a shot with sports fans. About 40 percent of them are very interested in watching live VR broadcasts, according to a 2016 survey by Greenlight Insights. But there's still more work to be done on the overall broadcast quality.

Still, the multiyear investment by Intel and MLB is significant, said Greenlight CEO Clifton Dawson. "One thing I will want to watch for is how the experience changes as the parties learn more with each broadcast," he said.

Intel's Aufhauser agrees.

"We will certainly be making improvements along the way," he said. 

Here is Intel's MLB lineup on Tuesdays in June:

  • June 6: Cleveland Indians at Colorado Rockies, 5:40 p.m. PT
  • June 13: Kansas City Royals at San Francisco Giants, 7:15 p.m. PT
  • June 20: Detroit Tigers at Seattle Mariners, 7:10 p.m. PT
  • June 27: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m. PT

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