MLB’s big bet on mobile apps pays off on Opening Day

My definition of a great Opening Day: When your team’s pitcher hits a home run and throws a complete game shutout against your archrival. Major League Baseball executives are celebrating a different Opening Day milestone: the skyrocketing popularity of the league’s official mobile app, At Bat. On Tuesday, MLB announced that the At Bat app, which is available for iOS,(s AAPL) Android(s GOOG) and BlackBerry,(s BBRY) was accessed 6 million times on Monday, the first day of baseball’s 2013 season. That’s double the amount of use the app saw on Opening Day 2012.

The league has offered mobile apps for several years and has continued to attract new app users each season by experimenting with pricing structures, adding new features and most importantly, giving fans ways to access its live and archived content on a phone or tablet. The audience has historically been made up of mostly iOS users, who account for 70 percent of the free At Bat app downloads and 85 percent of the paid app downloads. But MLB’s Advanced Media office, which develops those apps, says Android use has been growing recently.

Baseball’s mobile app audience is interesting because it’s not like the TV watching audience — MLB apps are not just used by fans who aren’t at a game. MLB has deftly built its online and mobile viewing audience by understanding that and embracing the ubiquity of mobile devices. MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman — who will be speaking at paidContent Live 2013 this month in New York City — told me recently that for younger fans, the smartphone “is the first screen, not second screen” and that any app the league makes “has to have everything” if they want to engage and keep those fans around for years.

Today MLB apps can be used as a mobile baseball ticket, and to check in, get coupons for merchandise, order food and even upgrade your seat during the game with MLB mobile apps — and, of course, to watch or listen to games when you’re not near a TV.