Can baseball swing for digital generations?

Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball.

To regain its position as America's Pastime, Major League Baseball must renew its brand

I was five years old in 1985, the year that the resurgent Kansas City Royals last battled it out in the World Series.

It is the first year I remember playing baseball with my older brother and, like many kids my age, plastering my bedroom walls with posters of baseball stars like Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn.

1985 was the beginning of my life-long love affair with the game of baseball. 

While there is no industry metric for share of bedroom-wall space, it seems telling that among Klout Score’s top 200 influential athletes today, only one Major League Baseball player  (David Ortiz at #8) makes the list.

So what has become of America’s national pastime?

According to a recent Sports Business Daily report, the average MLB viewer is getting older – alarmingly older. The 2013 World Series saw a median age of 54.2, an all-time high and a 5.8-year increase over 10 years.

MLB certainly is not the first brand to battle an aging demographic. Over the past several years, State Farm, Lincoln and Apple are a few among many brands that have been faced with the challenge of re-engaging younger generations.

The World Series is coming to a close, and the 2015 season is on deck. While MLB is already exploring structural changes to the game, it should also look at the playbooks of other brands that are breaking through to young people.

Refreshing baseball’s story

If companies like State Farm and Lincoln are any indication, few things resonate with younger audiences better than a fresh-faced spokesperson equipped with "cool factor."

But is "cool factor" enough for gaining the affection of an altogether uninterested audience?

Maybe not.

As the most diverse of America’s major leagues, however, MLB houses some of the most compelling human-interest stories in sports. Not to mention that most of its players share the same age as its desired demographic.

For generations whose opinions on baseball were undeniably affected by the impurities of the steroids era, reviving MLB’s story with a salient new cast of characters could prove as big a breath of fresh air as this year’s Little League World Series.

What’s more, matching their interests with everything from philanthropic events to entertainment awards shows could help baseball’s influence extend well beyond sports into the world of pop culture.

Embracing the second screen

Between HBO’s "Game of Thrones" and Animal Planet’s "Puppy Bowl," programs from all walks of television are embracing second-screen experiences to socialize their broadcasts.

For good reason: among digital generations, social engagement isn’t just important — it’s cost of entry.

While initiatives like the MLB Fan Cave have heightened the league’s social engagement, one of the second screen’s strongest powers may be lending more accessibility to the league.

For a sport that has been criticized for its slow, often 3-hour plus pace, short form mobile apps Instagram and Vine are no doubt ideal vehicles for distributing more palatable portions of the game.

More importantly, mobile content that tells the stories of MLB’s most striking, young players will give prospective fans a better idea of who they’re watching, where they came from and why they should care.

Enhancing experiences with technology

Though MLB and clubs like the San Francisco Giants have already begun to embrace in-stadium technology, everyone from the 49ers to Apple continue to raise the bar.

These brands understand that whether they’re in a stadium or a store, today’s young people see constant connectivity as a non-negotiable.

By continuing to rewire its venues with features like Apple Pay, mobile beacons and enhanced Wi-Fi networks, MLB can meet the demands of younger fans and their second screens.

With the help of mobile beacons, for example, teams can reach people with almost constant streams of time and location sensitive content — be it photos from the dugout or video from the locker room after a big win.

While it all may sound too distractive for a baseball purist, it is, after all, a new era.

Todd Fischer is Vice President of Client Management with GMR Marketing.

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