SVG Digital Chat: Inside the New NHL With MLBAM’s Chad Evans and Matt Restivo

Top developers discuss letting video lead, how iOS 9 has changed tablet-app development

On Feb. 1, the National Hockey League, in conjunction with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), will roll out a new suite of digital platforms, including a Website, mobile application, and live out-of-market streaming service.

RestivoEvansMLBAM

MLBAM’s Chad Evans (left) and Matt Restivo

The partnership commenced only five months ago, when the two sides came together in a formal agreement that included shifting some personnel from the NHL to MLBAM. Among them was Matt Restivo, who now serves as senior director, product development, for MLBAM and played a key role in the design of the platforms that will launch next week.

SVG caught up with Restivo and Chad Evans, SVP, mobile product development, MLBAM, to discuss the collaborative process between MLB and the NHL, how video has become the star, and how iOS 9 has changed the game for tablet app design.

What was the collaboration process between MLBAM and the NHL like?
Restivo: 
There was a ton of people involved in making this work well; [it was] a total team effort. It’s a combination of a lot of what works really well at baseball and what actually fits in the context of hockey. For example, MLB has a great presentation of scoring summary. So we thought, what do fans care about? Fans want to watch highlights of the game, or, if their team lost, they probably just want to know who from their team scored. If you are a fantasy player, you just want to see goals.

Evans: A lot of it goes back to what [MLB President/CEO] Bob [Bowman] always says: “let the content lead.” So, at BAM, I think they’ve just brought our approach to the way we approach designing apps and Web and connected devices for baseball and put that together with hockey’s expertise of their game and came up with some great solutions.

Do you approach everything you design as mobile first?
Evans: Mobile doesn’t mean just apps. Apps are crucially important, but there’s mobile Web and not just thinking about small screens but thinking about what the use case for mobile is. What are people doing on their phones? How is that different from how they approach a tablet when they are in their living room? Just because they are both running iOS doesn’t mean that people approach using them the same way. On handsets, you have to consider bandwidth and customers’ data plans. These are all factors when we say we are thinking mobile first. It’s not just, how can we get in and get a good spot on the App Store. It’s thinking about the right experience in the context.

So is there a key example or two that you can cite in this design where the experience is different on the phone vs. the tablet?
Restivo:
 The handset is really about getting customized content into the hands of the fan quickly while the tablet is a phenomenal video experience, and we really prioritized that.

Evans: That’s a huge part of it: tablet is fantastic for video.

Also, the iOS 9 multitasking [on iPad] is a real big deal for us. You have to think about the app and how it appears in up to seven different screen orientations. There’s small, medium, portrait, full, etc. You also have to start playing nicely with other apps to get picture-in-picture — which is part of iOS 9’s multitasking framework — to work. You can split the screen, but you can also leave the app entirely and keep watching video, dock the video on the side and pull it out when you want to watch it. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure your app plays nicely. If you are running someone else’s app and it’s taking up all of your memory and then you try to load a video, apps will start crashing. It’s important that we be a good citizen in the ecosystem. Apps on tablets never really had to worry about that because multitasking wasn’t possible. You knew that, if someone was using your app, that’s all the user was doing. So that makes you rethink everything. What does our scoreboard look like in each of these different orientations?

So we spent a lot of time thinking about video and how the multitasking works.