The Houston Astros’ use of cameras to steal signs and conceivably cheat to win the World Series has driven many recent conversations about the place and meaning of technology in sports. The Major League Baseball season is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this has only delayed the league addressing the controversy of using technology within the game.
New MLB-sponsored technologies, specifically those used to call balls and strikes, will spawn an entirely new set of questions about tech in baseball. These will only heighten the sport’s identity crisis.
Baseball is a game heavily rooted in its history, and beloved traditions can make it very hard to change any aspect of the game. The historical continuity of game play enables fans to compare player and team performances over time. But the desire to keep the game true to its roots, as well as the changes – albeit gradual ones – that have lengthened the game and made it more boring, potentially makes the game out of touch with the changing landscape of sports fans.
To reach a new fan base, MLB embraced visualization technologies to appeal to younger and more technologically savvy fans. MLB began to officially track ball trajectory, using the technological system PITCHf/x during the 2006 MLB playoff series, as a way for the public to participate in a more visceral and data-driven viewing experience.
MLB currently uses the Statcast system, which uses a combination of Doppler radar and optical tracking to follow the movements of the ball and player on the field. It provides an array of important data that can improve game play, including the angle and velocity of the ball coming off the bat when a player puts a ball in play.
Technical precision versus judgment call
Yet as consequential as these technologies are to the viewing and playing experience of the game, they only document the actions on the field. This is a critically important distinction because these systems do not intervene in, augment or change the way baseball is played.
As MLB works its way into the modern technological age, it is at the precipice of making an all-important leap into using technology to call balls and strikes. The case for using technology is to remove human fallibility from the equation.
In summer 2019, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, an independent league, experimented with the Trackman system. At the time, Trackman was the newest automated ball-strike technology available. The system works by using a 3D Doppler radar system to track and measure the flight of a baseball. Mapping this data onto the shape of a field, the location of home plate and the dimensions of each player’s strike zone enables the system to call balls and strikes.
MLB used the Atlantic League games, and MLB’s Arizona Fall League games later in the year, to assess and fine-tune the system for eventual use in major and minor league games. The system received mixed reviews for accuracy, speed in making calls and consistent reliability.
Nevertheless, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that minor league baseball would use automated ball-strike technology in the 2020 season. MLB does not have a clear timeline of when it plans to introduce ABS technology into major league games. However, when MLB returns to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, robotic umpires might be one of many measures to manage social distancing.
At the moment, it doesn’t appear that these new “robo-umps” will fully replace the plate umpire. But, they clearly are on the way and will change what it means to umpire the game. Arguably, this will change the history, tradition and culture of baseball.
A whole new ballgame
One of the enduring values of sports, and specifically baseball, is its nontechnoscientific simplicity. The game, at its core, is a decidedly throwback activity. One of the defining characteristics of baseball is the way that players and teams interpret the rules of the game.
Sign stealing is illegal within the written rules of the game. Players figuring out a way to know what pitch is being thrown, however, is a fundamental if unwritten part of the game. Yet, when the Astros used technology to enhance the art of sign stealing, players and fans reacted negatively to the team deploying too much technology within the game.
Similarly, the step to computer-assisted umpiring in a sport so defined by its history has the potential to change the game and precipitate a crisis of identity. These types of decision aids come between the players and the umpires. This redefines the way the game is played because throughout baseball’s history the differences in how each plate umpire calls balls and strikes affect how players prepare for and react to each pitch.
The push to automate calling balls and strikes is driven by the occasional poor performances by plate umpires in consequential games. But, it’s still far from clear whether technological decision aids will increase the accuracy of calling the game. The English Premier League’s use of a Video Assistant Referee in soccer matches has shown that adding technology to ostensibly make better in-game decisions can raise questions about how precise decisions need to be. Video technology is also used in professional tennis, but only when players request a review of an official’s call.
The strike zone: I know it when I see it
Questions about precision will almost certainly arise when these tools move from the test cases of the Atlantic League and the MLB pre-season to regular-season MLB games. The biggest issues will center on the specifics of the strike zone.
MLB defines the strike zone as “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the bottom of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”
This seems simple enough, but MLB has not defined these variables – a shortcoming that stands out in a world where it’s possible to digitally home in on millimeters of difference. Where exactly is the bottom of each player’s knee? Where exactly is the top of the shoulder? Most importantly, when, specifically, is the moment that the batter prepares to swing at the ball?
If MLB is going to move away from plate umpires possessing the interpretive flexibility to determine what a ball and a strike is over the period of a game or season, to a system of digitally determined accuracy, then the league needs to do the necessary hard work of spelling out, in exacting detail, where the strike zone is and when it becomes the strike zone.
First, MLB should determine if baseball’s fans really want machines to call balls and strikes. Most importantly, MLB needs to look deep inside its soul and address the larger cultural question: Should the calling of balls and strikes be more a science than an art?
[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]
Rayvon Fouché does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Revenge travel is coming to an end, says industry CEO — a recession will replace it
The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group says that the world has moved beyond revenge travel–even China.
'Last stage of pent-up demand'The Summer of '23 was also pretty strong, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which found that almost a third, or 32.8%, of all U.S. households took a vacation between May and August, up from 28.5% in August 2022 and a record high in data going back to 2015. However, it looks like the revenge travel upswing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book said in September that consumer spending on tourism was stronger than expected, "surging during what most contacts considered the last stage of pent-up demand for leisure travel from the pandemic era." Elie Maalouf also thinks that the revenge travel dish has gone cold. The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) - Get Free Report said in an interview with CNBC that he believes pent-up demand is over. "People started traveling really by the end of 2020 as restrictions started to lift,” he said. “So we’re really past revenge travel — even in China.” Intercontinental Hotel Group operates hotels under several brand names, including Regent, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, and Candlewood Suites. The company’s latest quarterly update showed travel demand remained strong during the close of the summer travel season. “We think we’re in a sustainable place,” Maalouf said. “Our bookings for groups and meetings going into 2024 and beyond are the strongest we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Average room rates increaseIHG’s third quarter trading update showed the company’s revenue per available room — or “revpar” — was up 10.5% compared to third quarter 2022, and nearly 13% higher compared with the third quarter of 2019, which was before the pandemic. This is despite a 3% drop in revpar, compared to 2019, in large cities in Greater China, which are more dependent on international travelers. Maalouf said that lack of “airlift,” or flight capacity, into China is below 50% of prepandemic levels, which is affecting travel recovery in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. “But if you look at the country as a whole, travel — which is mostly domestic in China — it’s recovered well above 2019,” he said, adding that more than 80% of IHG’s business in China is in mid-sized to smaller cities. Occupancy levels in the third quarter at IHG hotels was 72% — just 1% shy of pre-pandemic levels, according to the quarterly update. But average room rates have jumped well above 2019 levels — up nearly 6% in Greater China, 15% in the Americas, and 24% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia. But rising rates are barely keeping up with inflation, said Maalouf. “Room rates have not really exceeded inflation in any of our markets,” he said. “I think people’s willingness to travel is exhibited by the fact they’re willing to pay.” Get investment guidance from trusted portfolio managers without the management fees. Sign up for Action Alerts PLUS now. fed federal reserve lockdown pandemic covid-19 recovery consumer spending africa europe china
Las Vegas Strip faces growing bed bug problem
With huge events including Formula 1, CES, and the Super Bowl looming, the Las Vegas Strip faces an issue that could be a major cause for concern.
Las Vegas beat the covid pandemic.
It wasn't that long ago when the Las Vegas Strip went dark and people questioned whether Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and other Strip players would emerge from the crisis intact.
In the darkest days, the entire Las Vegas Strip was closed down and when it reopened, it was not business as usual. Caesars Entertainment (CZR) - Get Free Report and MGM reopened slowly with all sorts of government-mandated restrictions in place.
The first months of the Strip's comeback featured temperature checks, a lot of plexiglass, gaming tables with limited numbers of players, masks, and social distancing. It was an odd mix of celebration and restraint as people were happy to be in Las Vegas, but the Strip was oddly empty, some casinos remained closed, and gaming floors were sparsely filled.
When vaccines became available, the Las Vegas Strip benefitted quickly. Business and international travelers were slow to return, but leisure travelers began bringing crowds back to pre-pandemic levels.
The comeback, however, was very fragile. CES 2022 was supposed to be Las Vegas's return to normal, the first major convention since covid. In reality, surging cases of the covid omicron variant caused most major companies to pull out.
Even with vaccines and covid tests required, an event that was supposed to be close to normal, ended up with 25% of 2020's pre-covid attendance. That CES showed just how quickly public sentiment — not actual danger — can ruin an event in Las Vegas.
Now, with November's Formula 1 Race, CES in January, and the Super Bowl in February all slated for Las Vegas, a rising health crisis threatens all of those events.
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The Las Vegas Strip has a bed bug problem
While bed bugs may not be as dangerous as covid, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Legionnaires’ disease, and some of the other infectious diseases that the Las Vegas Strip has faced over the past few years, they're still problematic. Bed bugs spread easily and a small infestation can become a large one quickly.
The sores caused by bed bugs are also a social media nightmare for the Las Vegas Strip. If even a few Las Vegas Strip visitors wake up covered in bed bug bites, that could become a viral nightmare for the entire city.
In late-August, reports came out the bed bugs had been at seven Las Vegas hotel, mostly on the Strip over the past two years. The impacted properties includes Caesars Planet Hollywood and Caesars Palace as well as MGM Resort International's (MGM) - Get Free Report MGM Grand, and others including Circus Circus, The Palazzo, Tropicana, and Sahara.
"Now, that number is nine with the addition of The Venetian and Park MGM. According to the health department report, a Venetian guest reported seeing the bloodsuckers on July 29 and was moved to another room. An inspection three days later confirmed their presence," Casino.org reported.
The Park MGM bed bug incident took place on Aug. 14.
Bed bugs remain a Las Vegas Strip problem
Only Tropicana, which is soon going to be demolished, and Sahara, responded to Casino.org about their bed bug issues. Caesars and MGM have not commented publicly or responded to requests from KLAS or Casino.org.
That makes sense because the resorts do not want news to spread about potential bed bug problems when the actual incidents have so far been minimal. The problem is that unreported bed bug issues can rapidly snowball.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shares some guidelines on bed bug bites on its website that hint at the depth of the problem facing Las Vegas Strip resorts.
"Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor. This reduces the number of bed bugs. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers. Remember to clean them when you do the laundry," the agency shared.
Normally, that would not be an issue in Las Vegas as rooms are cleaned daily. Since the covid pandemic, however, some people have opted out of daily cleaning and some resorts have encouraged that.
Not having daily room cleaning in just a few rooms could lead to quick spread.
"Bed bugs spread so easily and so quickly, that the University of Kentucky's entomology department notes that "it often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere."
"Once bed bugs are introduced, they can crawl from room to room, or floor to floor via cracks and openings in walls, floors and ceilings," warned the University's researchers.
spread social distancing pandemic
Americans are having a tough time repaying pandemic-era loans received with inflated credit scores
Borrowers are realizing the responsibility of new debts too late.
With the economy of the United States at a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic, the efforts to stimulate the economy brought many opportunities to people who may have not had them otherwise.
However, the extension of these opportunities to those who took advantage of the times has had its consequences.
A report by the Financial Times states that borrowers in the United States that took advantage of lending opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic are falling behind on actually paying back their debt.
At a time when stimulus checks were handed out and loan repayments were frozen to help those affected by the economic shock of Covid-19, many consumers in the States saw that lenders became more willing to provide consumer credit.
According to a report by credit reporting agency TransUnion, the median consumer credit score jumped 20% to a peak of 676 in the first quarter of 2021, allowing many to finally have “good” credit scores. However, their data also showed that those who took out loans and credit from 2021 to early 2023 are having an hard time managing these debts.
“Consumer finance companies used this opportunity to juice up their growth at a time when funding was ample and consumers’ finances had gotten an artificial boost,” Chief economist of Moody’s Analytics Mark Zandi told FT. “Certainly a lot of lower-income households that got caught up in all of this will feel financial pain.”
Moody’s data shows that new credit cards accounts that were opened in the first quarter of 2023 have a 4% delinquency rate, while the same rate in September 2022 was 4.5%. According to the analysts, these levels were the highest for the same point of the year since 2008.
Additionally, a study by credit scoring company VantageScore found that credit cards issued in March 2022 had higher delinquency rates than cards issued at the same time during the prior four years.
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Credit cards were not the only debts that American consumers took on. As per S&P Global Ratings data, riskier car loans taken on during the height of the pandemic have more repayment problems than in previous years. In 2022, subprime borrowers were becoming delinquent on new cars loans at twice the rate of pre-pandemic levels.
S&P auto loan tracker Amy Martin told FT that lenders during the pandemic were “rather aggressive” in terms of signing new loans.
Bill Moreland of research group BankRegData has warned about these rising delinquencies in the past and had recently estimated that by late 2022, there were hundreds of billions of dollars in what he calls “excess lending based upon artificially inflated credit scores”.
The Government's Role
Because so many are failing to pay their bills, many are wary that the government assistance may have been a financial double-edged sword; as they were meant to alleviate financial stress during lockdown, while it led some of them to financial difficulty.
The $2.2 trillion Cares Act federal aid package passed in the early stages of the pandemic not only put cash in the American consumer’s pocket, but also protected borrowers from foreclosure, default and in some instances, lenders were barred from reporting late payments to credit bureaus.
Yeshiva University law professor Pam Foohey specializes in consumer bankruptcy and believes that the Cares Act was good policy, however she shifts the blame away from the consumers and borrowers.
“I fault lenders and the market structure for not having a longer-term perspective. That’s not something that the Cares Act should have solved and it still exists and still needs to be addressed.”
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