The beginning of baseball season also means a new onslaught of social media campaigns from MLB team and league accounts. This year, their strategy is all about broadening the viewership and increasing engagement across new platforms.
MLB is facing a difficult landscape in the era of on-demand viewing. In the 2018 season, attendance dropped, ratings remained stagnant, and a fundamental generational difference in the aging fan base led to an overall dismal outlook for the future of MLB viewership.
Enter their 2019 social media strategy. Here’s what the league is doing to engage fans digitally and attract new fans to the sport.
Reaching the Younger Fanbase
The main goal of MLB’s social media initiatives during the 2019 season is to continue exploring new platforms for consumption and ways to engage a younger fan base. More emphasis has been placed on brand partnerships and activations on social media, where the younger generation consume most of their media.
One method MLB is taking to appeal to a younger, mass audience, is allowing the players themselves more freedom. MLB has been strict in its rules regarding the way players behave, but on top of using social media to reach their audience, MLB is also using social media to empower its athletes to build their own brands within the franchise.
Broadcasting on Facebook
In 2018, MLB partnered with Facebook to produce 26 games online for $30 million. For the first time in MLB history, games were broadcast on Facebook, and included features unique to the social media landscape, such as real-time fan interaction.
The move was a definite shift in streaming strategy, as the MLB recognized a change in consumption patterns among the younger audiences.
While real-time commenting on the social media platform was met with mixed feelings, MLB had hoped to partner with Facebook again in 2019.
The MLB successfully negotiated an agreement with Facebook for another year of live streaming. In the 2019 agreement, however, the number of live-streamed games dropped to just six games this season. Each live game will be produced by the MLB network specifically for Facebook Watch, bringing back features like real-time fan interaction.
In a new addition to the 2019 contract, the MLB will now have the opportunity to sell sponsorships for those broadcasts on Facebook Watch. MLB will be able to increase their digital sponsorship inventory by offering a lucrative option to sponsor a live broadcast on Facebook Watch.
This is big news for both MLB and Facebook as it continues to grow as a streaming platform. The league is taking advantage of the reach the social platform has to increase viewership and awareness of social handles. Breaking from the precedent set last year, however, MLB’s streaming contract isn’t exclusive to Facebook, allowing the league to explore additional streaming opportunities on other platforms.
For Facebook, a partnership with the MLB during the 2019 season allows the platform to experiment with the way viewers access content. In the 2019 iteration of the broadcasting contract, Facebook’s non-exclusive agreement with the MLB will allow “out-of-market fans” to watch one game per month for free on Facebook Watch.
At-Bats and on Twitter
In addition to streaming games through Facebook Watch, MLB is partnering with Twitter in a bid to increase engagement on the platform. Twitter is getting in on the streaming action with the MLB, producing live streamed shows for events throughout the season.
A new initiative on the platform is the fan selection of at-bats on a daily basis. Each day, the MLB and Twitter will feature a player’s at-bats based on who fans vote for.
Reminding fans to choose a player to feature each day showcases which players are popular among the fan base, opening the door to a plethora of opportunities for the MLB to promote more content related to the certain player later on.
The strategy highlights how brands can utilize social media features to hear more from their fans. The best way to produce content that resonates with an audience is to ask your audience what type of content they want to see.
Finally, in addition to streaming games and highlighting select players, home run highlights, real-time game highlights, and hashtag-triggered emojis for each of the 30 MLB teams will also be available on the MLB’s Twitter account.
The 2019 emojis are here!
Which hashtag are you going with? pic.twitter.com/Ds8fELaFRN
— MLB (@MLB) March 20, 2019
Supporting MLB Athletes
After much criticism for strict rules surrounding player’s use of MLB licensed content, MLB will allow players to use protected material like video highlights on their personal social media feeds.
The move comes at a time when the league is trying to appeal to a younger, broader audience by enabling players to do some of the leg work for them. You can see this in their use of Facebook Watch for game streaming and the use of Twitter to engage fans.
The new rules regarding content use also coincide with the MLB’s initiative to create exclusive social and digital media content in collaboration with top players. By broadening their content library and expanding their viewer base, the MLB will be able to keep viewership and engagement up during the 2019 season.
Continuing Brand Partnerships
In addition to the initiatives the league is launching during the 2019 season, various teams within the league are repeating collaborations from last year.
Biofreeze is capitalizing on the success of sponsoring starting lineup posts, collaborating with teams like the Dodgers (who owned the social media landscape during the 2018 season), the Cubs, and the Yankees during the 2019 season.
The Red Sox have partnered with parking app Park Whiz for their starting lineup posts, tagging the brand in the lineup announcements.
Budweiser is back to partnering with the Dodgers on their final score recaps, adding a paid indication on Instagram and logo to the corner of graphics.
MLB has a lot of growth potential if it continues to adapt to a younger, digital audience. Media consumption has changed over the last 50, 20, and 10 years. In order to remain relevant in today’s landscape, MLB must continue activating and exploring options on social media platforms like they are doing this year.
Partnerships with Facebook Watch and Twitter are enabling the MLB to connect with younger fans on the platforms they use most while also utilizing features unique to social media to glean insights into the younger demographic.
All-in-all, the push towards social content will help MLB continue to digitally resonate with younger fans in the years to come.