This week, I will look at how Major League Baseball’s digital strategy is helping it appeal to a new generation of fans. By traditional measures, baseball appears to be decreasing in popularity, especially among the younger demographic, with a large number of TV viewers over 55 years old and Little League participation rates falling. However, this does not take into account the activity occurring on digital platforms.
Major League Baseball has an elaborate digital strategy to attract new, younger fans who may not have the time, patience, or attention span to sit down and watch a game. MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) runs MLB’s digital efforts including social media, streaming (MLB.TV), apps (At Bat), real time statistics (Statcast), and ticket sales. The company was launched in 2000 as a partnership between team owners, with the primary purpose of running team websites and MLB.com. Over time, they have expanded to become a multimedia empire, with Forbes labeling it “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of.” Besides baseball, MLBAM provides digital services to the NHL and PGA and their servers power streaming for WatchESPN, HBO Now, and March Madness on CBS. They stream more live video than any other company, with revenues approaching $1 billion.
MLB.TV and and At Bat allow fans to follow their favorite team on the go and supplement their game-viewing experience with real-time statistics and analysis. MLB.TV is a subscription service that allows games to be broadcast on over 400 devices, including iOS and Android. It is great for fans, such as college students, who do not live in a team’s home market but want to watch the games. During the season, it is accessed over 2 million times a day. MLB At Bat is a mobile app which provides a wealth of information including news, statistics, pitch by pitch data, and video highlights. It has been the highest grossing sports app in the Apple App Store every year since its release in 2008, due to a subscription option that provides greater access to this content. The average user is 30 years old, with two-thirds using the app daily.
Being a sports fan is an inherently social experience, providing a sense of belonging and allowing people to be part of something larger than themselves. Since watching games with others may be less common than the past, social media can help fulfill this desire, by giving fans a voice and allowing them to interact with other passionate fans. This is why many teams focus their social efforts on creating a community and engaging with fans, through platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat, rather than purely for marketing purposes. According to social analytics firm Klear, the most active group of fans on social media for many baseball teams ranges from ages 18 to 24, which shows that MLB is making progress in their efforts to target a younger audience.
MLB and its teams have an active presence on Twitter. The content of their tweets has become more informal over time, with less facts and more opinion, in an attempt to relate more with the fans. They partnered with Twitter for Moments during the playoffs, to allow fans to follow the game, through a series of curated tweets. Teams like the Mets use Periscope to share exclusive content such as batting practice before games. Earlier this year, MLB began a partnership with Snapchat, with the introduction of MLB Wednesdays. This is a Live Story available to all users of the app which shows games from the perspective of fans and players, as well as behind-the-scenes footage inside the clubhouses and dugouts filmed by the league’s social media team. In October, Snapchat introduced dynamic Geofilters, in partnership with STATS, a sports technology and data company, which overlays the current score and other statistics on content captured inside the stadium. During the World Series, there were special Live Stories for each game, with highlights from the perspective of fans both at the stadium and elsewhere, which included these new Geofilters.
The experience of feeling like you are at the game shows the potential of virtual reality. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees virtual reality as a platform to share experiences as if you were there, including sporting events. You could be sitting on your couch at home, but think you are behind home plate at a baseball game. Virtual reality can also change how players train. For example, EON Sports VR’s Project OPS, which has been backed by former player Jason Giambi, allows batters to simulate game situations and improve their ability to hit certain pitches.
Despite being the oldest major American sport, baseball has found a way to remain relevant, with its innovative digital initiatives successfully engaging a younger generation of fans, which it hopes to continue going forward.