Every once in a while, an organization makes a blunder so breathtaking that it's almost operatic. Major League Baseball has made such a blunder -- one that combines the initial inexplicable gaffe and how they've compounded it.
It's turning into a textbook lesson on being tone deaf with your public. Pull up a chair.
For several years, MLB.com has had the crown jewel of sports subscription services, Gameday Audio, which broadcasts every major league baseball game. It's a smorgasbord of joy for baseball fans -- 162 games, 30 teams, many in two languages. Probably around 8,000 broadcasts.
Every season, MLB tries to change its media player. Each new one has had its benefits, along with glitches -- though always missing the point that, at heart, people subscribe because they simply want to hear their distant, favorite teams.
And then MLB made its blunder of epic proportions.
It's not that they once again changed media players. (Let's say there was a good reason.) It's that -- are you ready? -- they changed it on Opening Day.
Now, a moment to explain something if you're not a baseball fan. There is something mythic about Opening Day. It signifies the end of the long darkness without baseball. It's the day when all teams still have a chance, still have hope, still are all tied for first place. The great sportswriter Tom Boswell wrote a book on baseball titled, "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
This was Opening Day.
The day children cut school to see their favorite team, and don't get in trouble.
And on Opening Day of the 2009 baseball season, MLB put in a brand-new media player. Untested with the broadcast feeds.
...it didn't work.
During the entire month of Spring Training, they used the same Microsoft Silverlight media player they'd used last year. But on Opening Day, when its 500,000 subscribers went to listen to their favorite team's first game, after six months of silence - a new Adobe Flash media player suddenly appeared.
And it didn't work.
Imagine that. An untested technology had problems. Who'd have thought??!
And three games into the season, it still doesn't work.
The Gameday Audio user forum on MLB.com has exploded with vitriol and horror stories: subscribers clicking on a game's radiocast, and getting a TV link "error" message. Or it would go to the other team's broadcast. Or the Spanish-language broadcast. Or just not work at all. Many dozens of threads for subscribers of every team, livid in agony. Messages from overseas, fans who stayed up into the early hours just to hear Opening Day. The most numerous (and furious) threads were from Chicago Cubs fans, whose undying loyalty has followed their team through 101 losing seasons -- and they couldn't hear Opening Day.
It's three games into the season, and few can still can hear anything.
But what's turned this mere disaster into a PR horror show for Major League Baseball has been the response from "MLB support."
In fairness, these are not the people who made the boneheaded decision or caused the technical problems. They're just staffers told to keep the Titanic from sinking by using Silly Putty. But, still, common sense dictates what basic responses should be. And common sense has been absent.
For starters, there's been no official MLB response sent to subscribers that says the words, "We're sorry." Nor have tech support replies used that phrase.
Additionally, tech responses keep explaining that "The audio is working" in the face of avalanches of howls explaining that it is not.
But it gets even more bizarre as MLB support attempts to fix one computer at a time and with the wrong solution. It's like if there was a citywide power failure, and the Electric Company rep gave you instructions how rewire your lamp.
Here is one exchange out of many hundreds that demonstrates concisely the problem and outrage. It begins with a response from "MLBSupport" --
Did you check your host file? What other entries are showing up?
to open right click and open with notepad
If you are on a proxy
In IE - choose tools:internet options:connections and choose your connection. If you are using a proxy server, make sure the box called "bypass proxy server for local addresses" is checked.
That, in turn, brought the following, pointed comment -
flyingdonut on Wed Apr 08, 2009 3:16 pm responds --
I realize that you're just a helpdesk monkey, but that response is ludicrous. People are
paying for a service, and they expect it to work. To analogize - I buy a car, I shouldn't
have to learn how to do extensive engine repair to make the car go. I want to turn the
key and drive. Same with this system. I don't want to have to do all those things. I pay,
I want the product to work. It is YOUR job to make the product work, NOT MINE.
Those posting messages are telling tales of calling MLB tech support, waiting endlessly, getting cut off, not getting a response. And still -- after three days -- not getting service.
It's the worst possible situation for Major League Baseball. They've offered no public word. No public apology. No public solution. And they brought it all upon themselves.
Because, for some reason, they thought changing media players on Opening Day was a good idea.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg