Most companies use videoconferencing to avoid the cost of flying employees in from far-flung offices. But Major League Baseball took a slightly different tack earlier this year by using a videoconferencing system for people who were all in the same zip code.
MLB employees staffing this year’s World Baseball Classic games in Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles in March, and the All Star Game later in the year, were in the same cities at the same time. But because those metro areas are notorious for traffic jams, the league decided to use videoconferencing for daily logistical meetings for staffers at the stadium and league hotels, Daniel Gainey, the MLB’s director of IT, tells Fortune.
The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is a tournament in which pro baseball players suit up for their country’s national teams. This year, 16 teams from around the world competed for a slot in the finals in Los Angeles.
The MLB used Lifesize, a spin out of Logitech, a maker of PC equipment like keyboards and mice, for its videoconferencing. That service competes with Cisco (CSCO) WebEx, Zoom, and Microsoft (MSFT) Skype for Business.
In the past, the league scheduled daily morning meetings, and workers had to either attend in person in a hotel conference room or call in. One option involved unproductive travel time while the other meant sitting on a call trying to figure out who was talking about what.
This year, MLB set up a Lifesize camera (called an Icon) in a conference room where many team members gathered. But others at the ballpark or in between just called in, their image broadcast to others using their iPhone or Android cameras.
There was a bit of a learning curve. “We toyed with it in Miami where it worked well enough, but not great because we were new at it,” Gainey says. “But by the time we got to San Diego we got the kinks worked out.”
In San Diego, the league’s main hotel was 20 to 25 minutes from Petco Park—at least in theory. But in reality, “In traffic, it could be two hours,” Gainey said.
By using videoconferencing, team members were spared a commute while still being face-to-face with each other. For Gainey, that face-to-face visual connection makes the call more useful than audio conference calls, which most people wouldn’t call productive.
“With phone calls, people are on and off, and you just miss a lot of vital information,” Gainey said. With video, on the other hand, participants can pick up on non-verbal cues from their colleagues. Also they make it harder for conferees to mute their phones to take other calls, do e-mail, or go to the bathroom without being noticed.
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And since the league had already paid for the Lifesize services, additional expenses were minimal. It just shipped a couple Icons to the league hotels. If it hadn’t been for customs problems, it would probably have used the systems at the earlier international games as well, Gainey said.
The league also used the system again to prepare for this year’s All-Star Game in Miami and will likely do so again for the 2017 World Series and next year’s All-Star Game, Gainey said. The next World Baseball Classic is in four years, so that is less certain.