MLB Steps Up to the Marketing Plate
Major League Baseball’s best players from the past remain household names today: Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Derek Jeter, Sammy Sosa etc. An ESPN poll by Luker on Trends tells us there are only three baseball players in America’s 50 favorite pro athletes. The catch? All three of these players are retired.
People used to know the top players in baseball just like the general public knows who LeBron James and Tom Brady are. MLB Hall of Famer Dave Winfield has said, “You know who NBA players are, you know who football players are. You don’t know who all the baseball players are.” Yet, baseball players today are some of the best the sport has ever seen. They are the most qualified role models on and off the diamond, but unless you follow the game, most of these players go unnoticed. Baseball is just as good as it was in the past, so why don’t we value it just the same?
The Pitch, Count: 1-0
MLB seems to be stuck in the past, especially when it comes to marketing. They focus on promoting the game instead of the players. Then, they expect their players to promote themselves without allowing them the proper tools to do so. The league has ripped on players for attempting to bring their own personalities to the game through celebrations and uniforms. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told his players, “not to wear their emotions, literally, on their sleeves” while addressing the arm sleeves often worn by players.
USA Today’s baseball buff Ted Berg criticized, “there are ways the league can and should improve recognition of its stars, and pettiness like fining guys for uniform violations because they wore custom spikes helps nothing.” Luckily for the players, the league has finally loosened its grip on their cleat policy, allowing them to wear more customized designs. This gives these athletes the opportunity to express themselves, not only through their play, but through their fashion choices, which will help bring new fans to baseball. Now, the sport just needs to bring that mentality online.
Strike One, Count: 2-1
MLB has a closed mindset when it comes to fans and players posting their content online. 2019 is the first year players are allowed to post their own highlights to social media. Official team and player accounts are still limited to how many they can post, but at least it’s a start. They also refuse fan accounts the ability to post any game day highlights.
MLB has suspended fan’s twitter accounts such as @notjoserivera, @PitchingNinja and Grant Brisbee all for posting GIFs, or short highlights of games. If you post a MLB highlight, the league will file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint to Twitter, and Twitter will immediately restrain the account from posting anything. MLB seems to forget the more you see something the more likely you are to remember and connect with it. Their restrictions on social media are outrageous and have added to the league’s downfall. According to Fortune, MLB saw its lowest attendance average in 15 years last year.
Strike Two, Count : 2-2
MLB should take a lesson in social media from the NBA. The NBA has one of the most diverse, young followings in professional sports. NBA ratings from Turner Sports show, “NBA TV continues to deliver its most-watched live game telecasts ever, averaging 354,000 viewers, +20% over last year’s comparable coverage.” Their belief in social media marketing definitely helps these ratings.
The NBA commissioner Adam Silver explains, “There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.” NBA’s players and official team accounts keep people engaged through social media. They spread the most exciting highlights beyond their main audience to reach a bigger demographic. MLB wants to have this same effect, but it is hard to do without highlight clips. Manfred has even said, “If I could trade the presence of our players on social media for the presence of the NBA players, 100 percent, I’d make that trade.” The thing is, MLB doesn’t let players have a presence.
Full Count : 3-2
The league is attempting to bring America’s pastime to the present with their initiative “Let The Kids Play”. This campaign is headed by MLB’s senior vice president of marketing Barbara McHugh. It’s a way to integrate social media with a hashtag and encourage players to express themselves. McHugh believes ‘Let The Kids Play’ is, “really an overarching umbrella theme or rallying cry, if you will, to the work that we are dedicated to, which is to help promote our collection of diverse players and their personalities.”
This campaign is a great start, but if MLB expects to hit their ratings and ticket sales out of the park, they need to loosen their grip on social media. They should let everyone enjoy the game through GIFs and highlights. It will give people an everyday experience with professional baseball, players will become more recognizable, and baseball could reclaim its title as America’s favorite game. Let’s hope this at bat ends with a home run.
UPDATE: The MLB has since hit a couple ads out of the park. Their 2019 “Let the Kids Play” ad features the league’s best players showing off their personalities as they argue who will go further in the playoffs. The MLB also teamed up with Facebook to promote the social platform’s Facebook Groups feature in an ad titled “Game Day”—encouraging dads to take their daughters to baseball games.