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In two suites at Game of 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia last November, Major League Baseball chief marketer Karin Timpone gave a glimpse into the future of the league’s marketing plans. In one suite sat some of baseball’s most outgoing rising stars—Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, budding TV personality Jazz Chisolm and Triston McKenzie, who wants to build a business empire like LeBron James—and celeb fans like Miles Teller, who clocks in a bit younger than the average celebrity TV broadcasts typically highlight during an MLB game.
In the other suite stood Timpone’s team (with various baseball personalities and celebrities like Roberto Clemente’s family, former Yankees manager Joe Torre and celeb couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill), who are plotting the next generation of baseball marketing. With rule changes that should make the game more-fast paced and higher scoring, Timpone has hired Wieden+Kennedy Portland as the league’s first creative agency of record in eight years. While every game can’t feel like the raucous party for 46,000 fans like Game 3 served for Philadelphians, Timpone wants to drive loyalty as she’s rethinking fandom and how that impacts the way fans interact with the game of baseball.
“We wanted the right partner to be able to work with us not only on filmed creative, but across a variety of different things,” Timpone said. “And the work that you’re going to see unfold this season will definitely point to the breadth of the opportunity here.”
A multiyear campaign
From year to year, Major League Baseball has released an Opening Day campaign, but it has not turned those campaigns into brand platform ideas. With Wieden+Kennedy at the helm of its creativity, that will change this season as the league will unveil the start of a year multiyear platform. This year’s work will be released closer to Opening Day, and Timpone isn’t ready to reveal the tagline. The campaign won’t just be a singular spot, but a series of ads that will run throughout the season laddering up to the brand platform.
Timpone and Karl Lieberman, global CCO, Wieden+Kennedy both cautioned against saying this is a new MLB. Both are committed to tapping into the history of the game to connect with current and new fans.
“The balance with the work is tapping into the things that make [MLB] so universal and so special to so many people,” said Lieberman. The work will use the deep collective memories fans have of the game as a stage to introduce younger players and show how the game is evolving. “Hopefully it doesn’t feel like we’re doing something that overtly changes the notion of what the MLB is, but amplifies it in a way maybe people haven’t thought about.”
The league is also striving to make the game more accessible through technology and rule changes. MLB.TV and the MLB app will carry more minor league games and tell stories behind the scenes that will help fans get more familiar with the next generation of stars.
MLB will also soon release creative starring entertainment personalities discussing the rule changes—like the pitch clock, no infield shifts and larger bases—to let fans know how the game will change for the better.
Behind every brand platform is a brand truth to build off, and Timpone needed an agency could serve as more than just a creative partner.
“Not only are they known for their partnership with great brands, but they also have just really good insights around uncovering the brand truth,” Timpone said. MLB handed Wieden+Kennedy the account without a competitive pitch. The league engaged multiple agencies last season to get its 2022 campaign off the ground, but ultimately the needs of the league caused it to gravitate toward W+K.
Timpone wants to focus on bringing creativity internally across baseball, not just within the marketing department. The brand truth they uncover will be implemented across everything MLB does from how it helps it market its players, in-stadium experiences and how the league uses its flagship office and store in Midtown Manhattan. MLB is entrusting that Wieden will help the league further its goals of reaching fans not just through the game, but integrating baseball better into culture through a number of different outlets like food, fashion and music.
W+K has two of its creative legends—Jim Riswold and Hal Curtis, who helped build Nike into the marketing juggernaut that it is today—leading one of the hero films for the campaign, according to Lieberman and Dan Viens and Josh Bogdan will serve as the creative directors for the work. The agency will work most closely with Lauren Fritts, svp, brand and experiential marketing, MLB, who is part of a three-pronged leadership team beneath Timpone. Barbara McHugh, MLB’s svp for audience development and marketing operations and Scott Weisenthal, MLB’s svp, creative and content marketing, round out the trio.
Creators at the center
The league is also leaning into creators with various initiatives in the past that brought TikTok creators to the All Star Game, Celebrity Sluggers series and MLB Creator Class.
The Celebrity Sluggers series, which featured six videos with rising young actors, have garnered over 2 million views on YouTube, while MLB Creator Class—nine TikTok creators repping teams across the league—generated nearly a quarter of a billion views on the app.
The league is also using an app called Greenfly, which was conceived by former MLB All Star Shawn Green, to fuel its Player Social Program. Players receive images and videos to share on social to promote themselves and the game, with more than 1,800 players enrolled in the program. MLB’s marketing team set up a house during Spring Training for players to visit and interact with each other outside the game and get guidance on how to best build their brands and following.
Nowhere was this program more evident than at the World Series, where MLB was handing the mic to players like Chisolm to show off their personality on the league’s biggest stage.