Stadium Captioning a Home Run for Baseball Season 2023 

Mar 21 2023 Laura Swanson
View of a packed baseball stadium from the first base line. A blue sky in the distance over the left field wall.
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Take me out to the – stadium captioning? That phrasing may not have quite the ring to it that the classic song does, but for baseball fans who are deaf or hard of hearing, live stadium captioning is a vital part of the game.

Captions have been growing in popularity, even amongst people who don’t need them specifically for hearing disabilities. And as more people see the benefits of captions, their popularity is likely to grow. In fact, in a recent study, 31% of survey participants indicated they would be more likely to attend live events if they knew the event would be captioned. 

So what does stadium captioning involve? As the primary captioning provider for more than half of Major League Baseball teams’ stadiums, in addition to providing captioning for several NHL, NFL, and NBA stadiums and arenas, VITAC has the playbook for sporting events captioning. 

View of a packed baseball stadium from far off seats on the first base side of the field. Players are on the field, the sky is cloudy with a sunset.

Stadium Captioning Requirements 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public spaces, like stadiums and arenas, must provide equal access to the aural information that is broadcast in stadiums. This means that stadiums and arenas must provide captioning for fans who are deaf and hard of hearing. Most stadiums elect to do this either with the help of a ribbon board or by using an app or URL to access the captions on a smartphone or other mobile device. In the case of the MLB, VITAC does both, displaying captions on scoreboards and ribbon boards and directly to the MLB’s own ballpark app in order to streamline accessibility for fans.

Captions help fans follow play-by-play commentary, but they also help ensure that venues are safe for all fans. In addition to captioning play descriptions, scoring, and player information, stadium and event center captioning includes announcements relating to safety or emergency protocols, end-of-game updates, in-stadium advertisements, and next-game information. 

Ribbon Board Captions vs. Captioning Apps or Devices 

While both ribbon boards and captions via an app or captioning device satisfy ADA requirements, both methods have drawbacks and advantages each venue should consider.  

Ribbon boards have the advantage of generally being visible near the scoreboard, so finding the captions in this case may be as easy as finding the venue’s scoreboard. But some fans who also struggle with vision may have a hard time viewing the ribbon boards from certain angles or distances. Spaces where the ribbon board isn’t visible might also include hallways and concession areas, meaning fans might miss important safety announcements while getting a drink or a snack.

Captions streamed directly to an app, like the MLB app, have the convenience of being available in many fans’ pockets with just a few taps. Fans may also be already using the app at the game to get stadium details or other information on the team. This can make accessing captions more convenient for the app and tech-savvy fans. But fans who don’t have a smartphone or mobile device, or fans who may not be as tech-savvy, may struggle to find or access captions in an app.

Additionally, some fans have found that accessing captions via a smartphone app or handheld device takes away from the experience of the game. Having to toggle between the phone or device screen and the game means fans could miss action, creating an unequal experience for fans who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Sports fan reading captions at a live game

Advertising Accessibility 

One way to get around the issue of fans not knowing to use an app or being able to use an app or handheld device is to advertise the venue’s accessibility. Some venues have even started doing this by hosting special events such as Deaf Awareness Nights, like the recent New York Islanders event

This event not only displayed captions on both the ribbon boards and scoreboard but also featured a live American Sign Language interpreter on the scoreboard throughout the event. The scoreboard also displayed information on how fans could access mobile captions, making it easy for everyone to access the type of captions that best suited their needs. 

Ultimately, events like the NY Islanders Deaf Awareness Night show that offering accessibility in a variety of different ways will provide the most equitable experience for all fans. 

Live Event Captioning Benefits for Everyone 

It’s also worth noting that accessibility isn’t just about ticking an ADA compliance box. Captions are beneficial for many audience members and not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The benefits of captions have been documented over the years and include, among other things, increased comprehension as well as increased retention. In short, captions might help fans better remember those amazing plays they see at the game. 

And, as mentioned previously, captions have become more popular not just for sporting events, but also more regularly used for films and TV, and even for performance art. Movie theaters are also starting to up their accessibility game by offering more showings with open captions, as well as advertising open caption showings, and other ways movie-goers can access captions.

With so many benefits to captions, and their rising popularity, stadium captioning is set to hit a home run across ballparks this season.