Even if baseball resumes this summer, stadiums across the country will likely remain empty for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19 social distancing measures. But Major League Baseball has been slugging away at keeping its social channels full with MLB at Home.
The initiative encompasses the league’s robust slate of new online content, including live conversations between players and fans, classic games and original programming such as inside looks at training sessions, which have been shared across its various social platforms since the pandemic forced the suspension of live games.
Once the season was postponed in mid-March, MLB had to “pivot pretty quickly” to bring baseball to fans “in a different way,” senior vice president of marketing Barbara McHugh told Adweek.
The league’s online initiatives began with Opening Day at Home, which featured online “season kickoff” events for all 30 teams, including streaming a past game (where each home team won, of course) across their various platforms so fans could “feel a sense of community and unity on a day many were looking forward to,” according to the MLB.
“We wanted to keep in mind that Opening Day carries such a specific meaning for our fan base,” McHugh said.
The reception for Opening Day at Home led the league to expand its online initiatives into MLB at Home, with a consistent schedule of programming: Home Run Derby on Mondays, Pitching Performances on Tuesdays, All-Star Games on Wednesdays, Throwback Thursday (older games), Wild Finishes on Fridays and the weekends reserved for postseason clashes.
The most recent Throwback Thursday featured TV and podcast comedy personalities Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, both die-hard New York Yankees fans, watching a 2012 matchup against heated rival the Boston Red Sox and providing commentary.
The league put the spotlight on its MLB Vault Instagram channel, which, at 18%, has seen the most follower growth among all MLB-run social properties.
MLB Vault also posted the highest engagement rate of the league’s accounts, at 11%, and the second most total interactions, trailing only the MLB flagship account.
Usage of Instagram Live has been on the upswing since the start of the pandemic, and that holds true for MLB players, as well.
“There have been about 40 players taking over different accounts and showcasing personalities that the fans wouldn’t normally see,” McHugh said. “We turned some into weekly recurring shows. The players are really engaged. They invite other players and celebrities to join them, and they come to us with ideas looking for opportunities to engage fans.”
Jack Flaherty, Michael Lorenzen and Blake Snell are among the players with recurring shows on Instagram Live, and other active and retired players who have appeared include Pete Alonso, Harrison Bader, Cody Bellinger, Willson Contreras, Derek Dietrich, Dexter Fowler, Amir Garrett, Aaron Judge, Gavin Lux, David Ortiz, Hunter Pence, Zach Plesac, Alex Rodriguez, Iván Rodríguez, C.C. Sabathia, Pablo Sandoval, Kolten Wong and Jordan Yamamoto.
The league’s YouTube page airs fresh episodes of MLB Originals every Monday.
The slate has already featured segments like Quick Question: Ballparks, a look at the different dimensions of MLB playing fields; Fitted: Jesús Luzardo and Marcus Semien, in which veteran Semien takes rookie Luzardo out to buy his first suit; Stack’d, where players Lucas Giolito and Michael Lorenzen play giant Jenga while answering questions; Newlybros, in which childhood friends Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons compete to see who knows the other the best; and The Tryout, in which Javier Báez oversees a tryout by hip-hop star Residente.
MLB said the average watch time for MLB Originals topped 5 minutes.
The league will also explore further esports opportunities following the success of its recent MLB The Show Players League tournament, which tallied over 32 million views of related streams and content across the league’s and its teams’ social and owned-and-operated platforms.
McHugh said players have reaped the benefits of all this social activity as well, with many of them seeing large follower growth on their own accounts.
“Baseball’s recent history is filled with excitement, energy and milestones,” she added. “We’re taking a look at the current crop of players and the moments they’ve been involved in.”
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