MLB’s advertising plan, which focuses on stars like Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr.
In 1998, when Denver last hosted the All-Star Game, Ken Griffey Jr. and his marketable smile were everywhere.
With national advertising campaigns and such a pretty left-handed swing, “The Kid” found resonance well beyond baseball.
Today, three-time MVP and one of the greatest players in baseball history, Mike Trout is an incognito superstar. The average Joe fan could ride in an elevator with the Angels midfielder and may not even know it.
Major League Baseball plans to change that – and the All-Star Game at Coors Field is their launch pad.
With players like Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Mookie Betts and Jacob deGrom, MLB could have the most exciting cast of young stars since the 90s.
At the time, Griffey was starring in a Nike commercial promoting him for president, and Derek Jeter was making the covers of GQ and Newsweek magazines.
But times have changed, and baseball lagged the NFL and NBA when it came to promoting its stars. The sport couldn’t ride the social media wave at first and has struggled to attract young, laid-back fans in recent years. According to the Sports Business Journal, only 7% of MLB viewers are under the age of 18, and the numbers aren’t much better with young adults.
But as America emerges from the pandemic and ballpark stadiums are open to full capacity, MLB will be doing everything it can to promote the game and its charismatic young stars.
“Our plan is to have a focus on promoting our players and engaging a more diverse audience,” said Barbara McHugh, senior vice president of marketing at MLB. “Our efforts focus on their young talents and the passion and fun they bring to the game.”
To that end, MLB’s marketing team recently worked with Ohtani and his agent to announce Ohtani’s participation in Monday’s Home Run Derby through his social media account. Ohtani used a video produced for him by MLB and his social media followers grew by more than 55,000 over the next week.
In addition, MLB has more than 1,000 players enrolled in its “Player Social” program, including 58 of the game’s top 100 prospects. The program is in its third year.
“We have photos, videos, animated graphics and in-game highlights for players throughout the season,” said McHugh. “We are able to be a resource for the players.”
The MLB shares the content with its 30 teams, the MLB network, and a number of social media accounts.
The league has also invested in “MLB Originals,” a YouTube-hosted program that debuted last year and offers a behind-the-scenes look at players’ lives off the field. According to McHugh, 80% of viewers are under 34 years of age.
With games played almost daily for six months, MLB believes it should take advantage of highlights and focus on personalities. Relying on nostalgia and history like baseball has done for decades doesn’t move the needle anymore, especially with so many other entertainment options available to younger fans.
So MLB is playing catch-up.
According to market research, only 22% of Americans know who Trout is. 79% now know who NFL quarterback Tom Brady is. And while it can be argued that baseball players have never been more talented, the action has subsided within a game. With the ever increasing speed of pitchers, coupled with an emphasis on home runs, strikeouts have continued to rise and shot averages have fallen. What resulted in a lack of action turned fans off.
And baseball faces other major challenges as well.
“The biggest problem with baseball is simply the regional nature of the game,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director and sports analyst at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “You follow your home team, but you don’t really follow other teams. You won’t necessarily turn on a game on a Thursday night unless your home team is playing.
That being said, Dorfman, who worked with the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, believes the time has come for baseball to hype his young stars.
“Baseball should put more money into promoting these guys, in every possible way, in all avenues – on social media, on TV, in person, whatever they can do,” he said.
Still, Dorfman said, baseball has restrictions that other sports don’t.
“The game doesn’t really lend itself to much Flash,” he said. “When you pose and watch your home run go over the fence and do the long, slow home run trot, baseball tends to legislate against it. You should take things a little more relaxed and let these guys show more personality. ”
The Ohtani von der Angels are the focus of the Home Run Derby on Monday evening. He is the first player ever to be selected as a pitcher and position player for the All-Star Game. Dorfman sees incredible marketing potential for the Japanese-born star.
“Someone who excels at their sport might think they are just anywhere,” he said. “The comparisons to Babe Ruth are out of line, so you’d think that someone so special would just be tremendously attractive.”
While the media hype surrounding Ohtani is growing, he is still not an American superstar or household name.
At least not now.