What you can learn from Major League Baseball’s marketing problem
As our name would suggest, we’re baseball enthusiasts here. With Phil growing up in New York and me right here in Boston, it’s made for some interesting conversations in the office over the years. However recently, our debates have morphed from
who’s team is better to major league baseball’s marketing problem. This article from Sports Illustrated certainly elevated those conversations.
During the All-Star break MLB Commissioner answered questions about the league’s marketing strategies and the use of it’s best player, Mike Trout.
“Mike has made decisions on what he wants to do, doesn’t want to do, how he wants to spend his free time or not spend his free time,” Manfred said in the hours before MLB’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park. “I think we could help him make his brand very big.
“But he has to make a decision to engage. It takes time and effort.”
If you’re not a sports fan, there’s a good chance you’ve never of Mike Trout. That’s the problem. At 27 years old, he’s on pace to be the great player in the history of the game.
Trout Vs. All-Time Leaders Through Age 26
|231||Home Run||Barry Bonds 142|
|1,155||Hits||Pete Rose 899|
|2,155||Total bases||Hank Aaron 2,305|
|774||Runs||Rick Henderson 732|
The MLB has started making small improvements to the game itself. They’ve started banning 4pm starts and have toyed with the idea of a pitch clock to help speed up the game. Based on reports like this one below, it seems to be working.
Major League Baseball ranks #1 in cable prime time in every US MLB market except Miami https://t.co/CgvXd7DlUx
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) July 19, 2018
However numbers can be deceiving. If you read one of the last sentences in the article, when the data was collected, the league was seeing a 4% decline in the average TV rating in prime time compared to the end of the 2017 season. It’s been that way for a few years.
It’s actually the league’s fault
While Major League Baseball is clearly quick to put the blame on its superstars for not tweeting, posting, and branding themselves enough, the league itself has actually cultivated this practice.
One of my first jobs out of college was with the MLB at Fenway Park. It was far from a glorious job, but I did get to go to the park every home game and learned quite a few things about the inner workings of the league at the time. The biggest being that MLB has always had a stranglehold on their content. If you wanted to even have Fenway in the background of a promotional video MLB would be looking for 10’s of 1,000’s of dollars in royalties. (Trust me, we went that route once and were hit with a hefty quote.) Only recently has the league slightly softened its stance on fan-made videos and GIFs. Previously video clips, images, and even twitter accounts were shooed offline before they can travel widely.
What can brands learn?
- Don’t force it. People like Mike Trout don’t come along too often. But if you force them into doing more, you run the risk of things coming across inauthentic. In most cases, that’s worse than saying nothing at all.
- Don’t try to own every single content asset. Crossfit CEO Greg Glassman once said the more we gave away, the more money we made. That statement couldn’t be more true todayThere’s a time and a place for premium content. However, the majority
- Trust the mob. This might sound like a line from The Gladiator but it’s true. Allow your fans to create content for you. They have the most powerful voice of them all. By letting the reins go, your allowing the creativity flow. You’ll obviously run into negative pieces of content, but it will pail in comparison to the amount of backlash you’d receive if you blocked their access.