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Why Hasn’t Social Media Caught on With Baseball?

Let me start by saying this: The MLB not taking advantage of social media is like a slugger with home run power who refuses to swing the bat. It just doesn’t make sense.

The Four Major Sports

MLB

In the heat of this past NBA season, Twitter exploded and Facebook pages were redesigned for businesses. The NBA was smart, saw the opportunity, and has never looked back. The NFL season was ending as social media was becoming relevant for brands, and they’ve done a nice job attracting a large following. By the numbers, it’s obvious that the NHL has failed to this point.

To be fair, the MLB is taking advantage of social media to some extent. They operate a Twitter account with 242k+ followers and a Facebook page with 36,000 fans. They have iPhone and Facebook applications. They’ve integrated Twitter into MLB.tv, and placed ads on Citizen Sports applications. It’s just not enough. Their thinking is too limited and too narrow-focused.

Where Are the Superstars?

sportsThere are very few MLB players involved in social media. Most teams have one or two players represented at a maximum. More importantly, the superstars are missing. I love the Phillies more than I love most things on Earth, but the fact that Chad Durbin is the only Phillie on Twitter makes me cry. I’m not saying I don’t want to see Chad or I don’t support what he’s doing, but where is Ryan Howard? Where are Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley? I want to hear from those guys, too!

The other night, the Seattle Mariners hosted a forum on social media highlighted by their only player on Twitter, Ryan Rowland-Smith, a 26-year old pitching prospect from Australia. No offense to Ryan, because I think he’s the smartest player on the Mariners roster, but what about Ichiro, Griffey, or King Felix?

The guys fans really want to hear from are nowhere to be found.

What if…

There are so many instances where social media can have an impact.

What if Mark Buehrle had gotten on uStream.tv fresh off of his perfect game to talk about his experiences and answer questions from the fans?

Or what if David Ortiz had uploaded a video to Youtube telling his side of the story about being on the 2003 positive list? (See what Rashard Lewis did when it was reported he tested positive and again after his official statement).

The list goes on and on.

The Bottom Line

The MLB and its players have not taken advantage of social media and they have no excuse. Who’s to blame? The league, the players, or both? All I know is that we’re two-thirds through the season and I’m not impressed. It’s time for these guys to swing for the fences.

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11 Responses to Why Hasn’t Social Media Caught on With Baseball?

  1. David Spinks August 14, 2009 at 9:23 am #

    Nice post.

    It’s funny how the NFL has somewhat been in the spotlight when teams ban twitter from their locker rooms and fields, and yet they’re doing more than anyone else.

    I love your idea of players live streaming their thoughts on specific issues that they’re dealing with. I think the concept of a press conference is so deeply ingrained into the system that it just won’t allow for players to skip the media and speak directly to the fans. We’ll see how that’ll change as the fans start to gain more power and the media continues to lose that power.

    The entire sports space, ranging from the NFL to ESPN to the MLB etc, is definitely lagging in the adoption and utilization of social media. There are so many opportunities but these opportunities require a lot of big changes to the way things are done. I think they’ll happen, just not as quick as we’ve seen in other industries.

    @SeatGeek

  2. Lewis Howes August 14, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    If I was in the NFL and wanted to build my brand and increase personal sponsors this is what I would do:

    A daily/weekly live ustream show after every game and possible practices where I would host my own “press conference” and I would talk about my thoughts from the game, interview my locker neighbors and get the real story from the guys I play with. Let’s start seeing these guys even more transparent right? That would be the way to go, and people (fans) would eat that up online, creating an entire new wave of sponsorship/endorsement dollars.

    thoughts?

  3. Ken August 14, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    Good points!

    Teams do have some interesting opportunities here to both create and control their own content.

    I just don’t think game day is the best day for it because:
    – The league might ban it (like in the NFL)
    – Coaches won’t appreciate it or could consider it distractions
    – The (regular) media gets partially snubbed
    – The audience isn’t necessarily online during game day (they’re at the game, in a bar, in front of the TV, etc.)

    However, I think there’s a lot that can be done on pre-game and post-game days–and Lewis, you alluded to some already–like:
    – Sit-down interviews w/ players (by the club’s own writers or maybe a celebrity host, e.g. Steve Young interviewing Patrick Willis for the 49ers website)
    – Follow a player as he progresses through the season (could be a fun thing to do w/ a 12seconds.tv-like setup)
    – Chalk talk with one of the coaches
    – Workout habits/tips from a player every week
    – Just fun videos like Reebok did with the Fantasy Files for NFL players

    Every content item can have its own sponsor.

    If you power it using some sort of forum/community/group, fans can leave ideas, questions and comments, and all the traffic is driven to a single place.

  4. Marty Wetherall August 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    I completely agree with Lewis above. The traditional press conference is being upstaged by athletes like Chris Bosh and Stephon Marbury, who offer unprecedented “fan conferences” using tools like UStream. The teams need to embrace the social media activity they’re inspiring all around them but doing little- or nothing to leverage.

    Fans have come to expect more access. Twitter has broken the wall down forever. It’s time for teams and schools and leagues to close the engagement gap and capitalize on the assets they have instead of leaving money on the table.

  5. Sam Taggart August 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    Thanks for the comments, guys! Great conversation.

    David, agreed. I think that we’re a ways off from having the traditional press conference just go away. The mainstream media still demands postgame attention and that’s not going away anytime soon.

    Lewis, I do think that we’re starting to see athletes use live video streaming as a complement to the traditional press conference. There’s obviously tremendous value in engaging live with fans and creating these “fan conferences.” We’re seeing more and more athletes do it all the time.

    Ken, I agree with you that the game day usage of social media is a touchy issue. For now, it seems that team and league officials are extremely tentative. We’ll see what happens in the future. I think some of your suggestions for game day alternatives are on point.

    And Marty, you’re right. Fans are expecting more and more and athletes are getting more and more creative. Sports and social media are a perfect marriage and we’re only seeing the VERY TIP of the iceberg when it comes to what is going to happen with the two. It’s an exciting, new, and fast moving area and I’m glad to be a part of it.

  6. Michael Senno August 15, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    Interesting post. I have grown curious about baseball’s lack of public position on social networking, especially considering the game’s slower pace is most conducive to in-game participation. However, I’d like to play devil’s advocate on a few points, though I am a major advocate of social media.

    First, using Facebook fans and Twitter followers as a measurement of success and involvement is shallow, and fails to capture the potential business impact of these tools. Have they used to immediately manage a PR situation, how much have teams lifted ticket/merch revenue, and how many meaningful sponsorships exist?

    We can all come up with great uses for social media, but additional content does not necessarily drive revenue, and many uses may add potential risk (albeit I argue no more than the risk of live microphones and reporters). The NFL position begs the question, why do they need to be involved right now, when everyone is trying to figure out the medium. The league is a leader – social media or not – why not let someone else work out the kinks, then if it makes sense, jump in and do it better than everyone else. What’s the reward for taking the risk of a new venture?

    I don’t necessarily agree with this position, however I feel your commentary lacks depth and fails to address many of the major issues.

  7. Sam Taggart August 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Michael, appreciate your comments.

    I agree that Facebook fan & Twitter follower numbers aren’t necessarily significant in showing success, but I used the fan and follower numbers to show the lack of effort by the MLB as opposed to their lack of success with social media.

    Also, you say “additional content does not necessarily drive revenue.” I disagree. Additional content across a variety of platforms creates more fans, and more fans create more revenue. Particularly when that content is interactive and engaging.

    I don’t think the NFL has much to lose by participating in social media. If the NFL is the leader you say they are, they won’t sit back and wait for someone else to “work out the kinks,” they’ll jump in and be the best.

    Sorry you felt the post lacked depth. I could write for days about the topic, just not sure readers would be happy with that! 😉

  8. Brad Williamson - The Virtual Biographer™ September 3, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    There will come a day when a player signs a new contract that includes an agreement to consistently maintain a prominent virtual identity and they’ll definitely be monetarily compensated for doing so. Once this happens and the rest of the league’s players realize that the development of an emotional connection to a large group of rabid fans pays tremendously well and also brings a ton of other life-changing benefits, the snowball effect will then be put into motion.

    It. Will. Happen. I just wish the people who pull the trigger on implementing these approaches would hurry up and open their eyes to the reality of what will happen as a result of them, instead of waiting on someone else to be the pioneer and prove the efforts as effective.

  9. Tim Leary September 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    I played pro baseball from 1979 to 1994 including being a key member of the 1988 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Help me be a better social networker as I am motivated to get up to speed. I think that current players are so focused on the day to day grind during the season that they don’t want to mess up the routine that has been working for them. Tim Leary

  10. Sam Taggart September 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    Tim, feel free to send me an email at staggart@vaynermedia.com and we can discuss!

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