Nobody in sports could truly have been prepared for 2020. Yet Major League Baseball was in as good a place as any sports league to not just survive but thrive in the challenging year. How the league’s investment in content and social media had MLB set up for success was one of many topics discussed on the Driving Fan Engagement panel at the Sports Business Journal’s Intersport Brand Innovation Summit.
MLB Senior Vice President of Marketing Barbara McHugh was joined on the panel by Facebook Director of Sports Media and League Partnerships Robert Shaw, Greenfly CEO Daniel Kirschner, and panel moderator, Sports Business Journal reporter Eric Prisbell. Shaw called out MLB’s early use of Facebook Groups, in particular, as coming in handy in the socially distanced circumstances of 2020.
“Major League Baseball leaned-in more than any other league to (Facebook Groups) a few years ago,” said Shaw. “And it really paid off during this time where the lights went off in the stadiums (and) you still had the chatter and the conversation very much living in Facebook Groups.”
Kirschner further noted how the empty venues of 2020 made social media even more important for teams and leagues to reach and engage fans.
"You have all these fans who passionately want to be part of the game (and) that kind of sports bar environment. And when they're not able to go to the stadium, they're not able to even gather socially and watch games together, that's been a challenge,” said Kirschner. “I also think it accelerated the focus around engaging people really intimately and powerfully on social channels, and the logistical challenges around smaller staffs in-venue...and really needing to rely upon remote collaboration tools and technology..."
Kirschner also described how MLB uses Greenfly’s technology. First, to power the league’s Live Content Correspondent program, making high-quality content from the field immediately accessible to the league and its teams to post on social media. Greenfly also powers the Player Social program, which automatically routes that high-quality content to MLB players through Greenfly Galleries. Shaw noted how valuable it’s been for MLB to activate its players.
"It's allowing Major League Baseball, who may have been behind some of the partners like the NBA as far as having these younger athletes who grew up on these platforms, to really take form…,” he said. “Fans are being able to really form a relationship with the athletes that has been missing for a number of years."
The value of the league’s commitment to content and a speedy, scalable social media strategy came to life in an example described by McHugh from the 2020 postseason. The MLB exec walked the panel through how the league was in position to execute when a bat flip from young San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. started going viral.
"We recognized pretty quickly (that) Google search volume and social buzz were picking up pretty quickly, so we really tried to just build on that momentum…,” said McHugh, who also noted a quick turnaround of reactionary GIFs generated over 32 million GIF views for MLB. “Starting with (what) content we had (of the bat flip) based on the folks on the ground, the broadcast photos and videos...and [MLB’s accounts] started immediately posting organically.
“And then we did an impromptu paid ad campaign both on Twitter and on Instagram, and we ran that until the next game [in the Padres series] started...And we really focus our targeting on ages 13 to 24, really focus on that Gen Z group and the affinities that they follow, so things such as TikTok, Dude Perfect, ESPN, just to name a few."
McHugh also detailed some of the ways MLB is continuing to market its players, helping fans get to know them better through original content and on-field access.
“I think we were really excited about what we were able to accomplish this season in terms of a lot of more two-way mic'd up content, particularly on our national broadcasts,” she said. “On First with Pete Alonso, presented by Gatorade, was a great content series...So we definitely anticipate [continuing to] evolve with all that mic'd up content, but also just original content. We've really increased our resources and energy toward MLB Originals is what we call a number of content series in that portfolio, such as Stack’d and Fitted, Top 9, as well as Quick Question...The core of it is continuing to showcase our star players and bring out their personalities on and off the field."
Watch the full panel below and check out Greenfly’s tweets from throughout the event here.