For the last several years, Major League Baseball’s focus has been on making the game faster to appeal to younger generations. Changes such as the between-innings clock, pitching change clock and disallowing batters to completely leave the batters box have shaved around six minutes of time per game. Given that games are still taking around three hours to complete, only 9% of millennials identify baseball as their favorite sport. Why are the pace-of-game changes not making the game more exciting and increasing interest in younger people?
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One gigantic disparity between millennials and previous generations is the way in which sports are consumed. 87% of 13-24 year olds use social media to regularly consume sports-related content, twice the amount that consume sports content directly from mainstream media sources. As a result, many MLB properties have made a concerted effort to grow their social media presence. All 30 franchises are on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. MLB, however, has decided to limit who can post related content to these platforms.
Several prominent baseball writers have been suspended from various social sites for posting MLB content, protecting the MLB brand while subsequently limiting the reach of their own product. The situation is not dissimilar from what we saw at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The IOC banned GIFs, Vines, and other short video formats from being posted on social media so that NBC’s investment in the property would be protected. While the goal is certainly admirable, the results should explain how the plan went: viewership numbers for the Rio games were not as high as the numbers from the London games four years prior.
The only medium identified as a success for the Olympic coverage was Snapchat. The lesson learned is that there is value in getting your brand out there on social media, despite there being no direct monetization.
The Olympics shooting down videos of their own product limited the reach of their product, and thus their viewership fell.
So what is the answer? Obviously, there is tremendous value in protecting intellectual property and being able to control what the public sees in regards to your product. However, as we have seen with the Olympics, this control comes at a cost. If MLB’s goal is to reach a younger population, then it must adapt to how the younger generations are consuming content.
Imagine a social influencer posting a humorous clip of a baseball player missing a play or interacting with a fan. If MLB prevents that clip from being posted, it has limited the reach of its product to its original audience. However, if that clip is seen by a younger fan that perhaps had no previous exposure to baseball, it could create a new fan.
There is clearly a balance that needs to be struck between protecting intellectual property and expanding baseball’s reach. That balance has certainly not been found, and younger generations will continue to not be interested in or get much exposure to baseball because of it.
Brian Salerno is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in Sport Management and Statistics. He is interested in working in football and baseball data and analytics. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.