A home run for the fans: MLB gives millions a new consumer platform to cheer about
from initial discussion to launch day
of user migrations
authenticated requests per minute
- 30 clubs, millions of fans
- Creating a better fan experience
- An established partnership
- Traffic spikes and mass migrations
- Opening Day launch
The MLB fan experience is changing. No longer restricted to ballparks and television, fans are consuming and engaging with baseball through a variety of technologies, including mobile devices, live-streaming, and ballpark apps.
With its many digital offerings, MLB wanted to better engage fans and encourage them to consume content frequently and at their convenience. The organization decided to modernize its consumer platform to provide a streamlined, frictionless omni-channel experience that could scale to meet the demands of millions of users.
MLB needed a partner to help develop this new customer identity management framework, quickly. Previously, the organization had worked with Okta to successfully implement secure workforce identity solutions across its ball clubs. That project resulted in increased safety, productivity, and employee satisfaction—and so MLB turned to Okta again.
MLB had nine months to launch its new consumer-facing platform before Opening Day. It worked closely with Okta to plan the architecture, build it out, and migrate millions of users from an internal database. To make sure they were ready for traffic spikes, the development team held performance tests for up to 138,000 authenticated requests per minute.
The new platform launched smoothly on Opening Day 2019. Consumers enjoyed the easier-to-use platform and MLB received new insight into fan engagement behaviors. Bolstered by this success, MLB and Okta continue to work together to add more features and services.
Giving MLB ball fans the content they want, on demand
Major League Baseball gives fans a wide variety of ways to enjoy the game, whether on mobile device, web browser, streaming service, or ballpark app. To make it easier for fans to access and interact with all of that content, MLB decided to integrate all of its digital offerings in a new centralized platform. The organization turned to Okta to help develop and secure its new infrastructure, ensuring it was ready for millions of fans come Opening Day.
“When you come to us as a fan, you're seeing MLB, but it's Okta bringing all of the platforms together. As a fan, what’s better than seamlessly moving between these modes without having to think about identity? It’s win-win, powered by Okta behind the scenes.”
- Neil Boland, Chief Information Security Officer, Major League Baseball
- Consistent security layer throughout a large, diverse organization
- Frictionless, streamlined consumer experience
- Scalability and agility to accommodate traffic spikes
- Improved data security using a Zero Trust framework
- Seamless integration of new features and services
- Faster time to value
- Freed up developer resources to focus on non-identity related issues
A nation of fans with diverse technology habits
With 30 clubs and millions of fans, Major League Baseball is the best-attended sport in North America. For decades, enjoying the “Nation’s Pastime” meant trips to the ballpark, watching the game on television, or listening in on the radio. In recent years, though, the MLB experience has evolved.
“Technology is so crucial to the game today, not only in running the game, but to the fans,” says Neil Boland, MLB’s chief information security officer. “The digital experience is such a critical aspect to fan engagement and fan satisfaction. And so we've invested significantly in sharpening that experience for our fans and making sure that we deliver the game to them in the way that they expect to see it.”
Today, fans use smartphone apps, the web, browser-based home devices, and other platforms to take in games. “We use multiple channels to get to our fans,” Boland says. “It's a high priority for us to deliver our games and the supporting content around it to the fans the right way, at the right time, anytime.”
That means creating a frictionless experience for consumers who may turn to different devices at different times—they may watch a game on their phone one day, Apple TV another, tablet another. While in the ballpark, many fans look to technology to add to their experience. And between games, they want to catch up on news, highlights, and schedules.
“We have high standards mostly driven by our fans and where we want to go with them,” says Boland. “We spend a lot of time really digging into technologies and figuring out which ones are best suited to take that journey with us.”
Critical safety and security needs
The path to finding the right customer identity and access management solution—the technology that would allow MLB fans to securely and easily access all digital content—actually began while solving internal security challenges.
Boland is also responsible for the cybersecurity program for all 30 MLB clubs, which needed a way to provide a consistent security layer throughout the widely spread organization, while allowing each club the autonomy to implement applications and customize its own user experience.
Identity had to be at the heart of any MLB security solution. “Identity is foundational to security, safety, and delivering services across many, many partners,” says Boland. MLB has embraced the concept of Zero Trust: instead of firewalls and “trusted” networks, it is an individual’s identity that grants them secure access to shared applications and data regardless of location or device.
“Zero Trust is a huge part of what we're trying to accomplish,” says Boland. “The same way that our employees are able to work from home, from a hotel, from Starbucks, that's how we want them to work in our offices.”
“We take the network out of the equation—we don't care so much about the network, but we care about the employee and the service that's being delivered. And that has many benefits, including increasing employee satisfaction and productivity,” Boland says.
MLB’s security solution also had to work seamlessly with other software providers, as well as custom-built, in-house applications. As Boland points out, “any company that's going to deliver the type of capability and services that we deliver to our constituents involves a lot of business partners.”
Okta was the ideal solution to MLB’s workforce needs. “Identity needed to be portable, it needed to be highly integrated, and we needed a partner that worked with all of our other partners,” says Boland. “Okta definitely was ahead of the game on those fronts.”
Most importantly, “Okta is extremely serious about the security side of what we do—that's why we picked them,” says Boland. MLB implemented a suite of Okta Workforce Identity products, including Universal Directory, Single Sign-On, Multi-Factor Authentication, Lifecycle Management, and API Access Management.
“Okta helped us to secure the organization. But for our internal workforce users, Okta is making their day better, reducing friction and making it effortless to move from mode to mode,” says Boland. “People love it.”
From workforce to consumer solutions
It was clear from employee feedback that Okta was already having a positive impact across the organization. And MLB was confident that Okta could enhance its digital offering for fans as well by creating a more connected, engaging omni-channel experience.
"Our fans engage with us in different ways across so many channels. We had MLB.com, MLB.TV for streaming, our At the Ballpark app, we had electronic tickets,” says Boland. “For all of these platforms, each critical in their own right, we had to provide reliable access, and we had to do it effectively, reducing friction the whole way, never disrupting fan experience."
"Our fans’ time is valuable and we want it spent watching baseball, not trying to figure out how to provide additional information or authenticate to a new service,” says Boland. “Having a common identity framework to engage consumers, our fans, was critical.”
“As we looked at the next evolution of MLB.com we considered what to do with security and identity,” says Boland. His team of developers considered tackling the project themselves. They had the talent and experience to do it, Boland says, but the timeline was tight: MLB wanted to launch the new platform by Opening Day, giving them just nine months.
“We wanted somebody in the business of identity who could keep current and deal with all the nuances of a rapidly changing identity landscape for consumers,” says Boland. And he didn’t have to look far. “With all of the comfort we had with Okta for killing it in the workforce space for us, plus their roadmap on the consumer space, bringing them on board was a no-brainer,” says Boland.
“It was a different way of doing things, relying exclusively on a partner to handle identity for us,” Boland says.
“But we want to focus on the business of baseball. Okta crushes the business of identity, so we can let them worry about that aspect. I felt very confident in their expertise.”
“And now we had to scale many fold to deliver it for millions of consumers. It was a big-ticket order from the get-go,” says Boland.
Tight timeline, close collaboration
With only nine months to design and build the platform architecture, create integrations, migrate users, and test and launch the platform, Okta Professional Services and MLB had to work quickly and carefully.
“We asked Okta to come to the table and do this with us,” Boland says. “It was our development team supported by Okta's knowledge experts, transferring the knowledge, and then we delivered it holding hands with Okta.”
Just one component of the project was migrating MLB’s millions of users from an on-prem internal database to Okta. “It was a lot of data to push over the wire before launch,” says Boland. But it was necessary: “We trust Okta to safeguard the information better than we could, and allow us to better deliver our services.”
The hands-on partnership between Okta and MLB was critical to meeting the organization’s deadline. “We’re very happy that Okta agreed to the timeframe, and stepped up and helped us deliver,” says Boland. “I mean, the Okta team members might as well have had mlb.com email addresses. The whole team functioned as if they were on my team. And that’s trust.”
Preparing for traffic spikes and always-available live content
MLB also had to be sure its digital properties could reliably handle huge spikes in traffic during Opening Day and other high-volume events, including the all-star game and playoff run. Other surges would be less predictable—that’s the nature of live sporting events—but just as important to prepare for. Modern baseball fans have come to expect on-demand content; downtime or technical glitches are not acceptable
“One of the critical decision points behind selecting Okta was that we needed a partner who could stand up to the challenge of delivering our product live to our fans,” says Boland. “Failure was not an option. We have a live product that needs to be delivered 24/7/365, not just when games are on, but also when our fans want to consume that product off hours at their convenience.”
At peak, the team tested 138,000 authenticated user requests per minute. “Every time we revised that figure up, Okta Engineering came back to the table, looked at it and put it up there and tested it again with us,” says Boland. “We were pretty excited about that type of interaction with Okta, and with the results. It made us feel very confident about being ready for Opening Day.”
A successful launch
Opening Day 2019 came, and expectations were running high. “There we were, locked in a war room in Chelsea Market with the Okta Customer First team, a bunch of nervous guys hoping that nothing goes wrong,” Boland says. “But things couldn't have gone more smoothly.”
“Okta not only delivered but over-delivered—we even got some calls from the Okta team with interesting observations about how people were coming to visit us that were helpful in understanding the engagement dynamic,” says Boland. Consumers were also pleased, noting the more streamlined, easy-to-access MLB platform. “When you come to us as a fan, you're seeing MLB, but it's Okta bringing all of the platforms together,” says Boland. “What's better than that as a fan, when you don't have to think about identity again as you seamlessly move between these modes? It’s win-win, powered by Okta behind the scenes.”
Additionally, consumers expect that a major organization like MLB will keep their personal information safe, and the new platform instilled that sense of trust. “Okta does a good job of delivering that feeling of safety and security, part and parcel with the frictionless identity component,” Boland says.
In the wake of Opening Day success, MLB continues to work with Okta for identity management across all MLB divisions, including its omni-channel experience. “Having Okta has been incredible for us, for efficiency, for reducing friction, and for effectiveness in how we deliver services,”says Boland. By outsourcing identity management and maintenance to Okta, MLB has freed up its own expert development team to focus on building, improving, and expanding the fan experience.
“Ultimately, our customers are going to benefit more and more from having Okta as an identity platform because we will make sure it's embedded into other services that they're participating in across MLB,” Boland says. “And knowing how customers prefer to receive one service is great insight into how they would like to receive or consume another service. Our use of the Okta identity platform is ever expanding.”
That’s true for MLB employees and ball clubs, as well as for its legions of fans. MLB has adopted Okta as its single identity standard through all aspects of the organization. “Having Okta as a common, integrated identity framework for our consumers, for our employees, is critical,” says Boland. “We want to make sure their daily experience is frictionless and consistent, today and into the future.”
Major League Baseball (MLB) is the oldest professional sports league in the US, consisting of 30 member clubs in the US and Canada. With the continued success of MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network, MLB continues to find innovative ways for its fans to enjoy America’s national pastime and a truly global game.