Major League Baseball’s Media Arm Underutilized

Over the past few years, we’ve all gotten inundated with debates and conversations about “what’s wrong with baseball?” Game length is a much talked-about problem. It has led to subtle changes. In reality, the new rule changes only tinker with issues on the far margins. The real question is this: why is baseball so bad at promoting its more exciting aspects? Why doesn’t Major League Baseball use its media arm (MLB Advanced Media) more effectively? From a marketing standpoint, Major League Baseball’s media campaign is failing, and for no reason.

Major League Baseball’s Media Arm Underutilized

A Google-deep dive on MLB Advanced Media is pretty fascinating. Major League Baseball’s media department decided to go in on the internet way early. That uniquely positioned MLB to supply streaming services to other entities. Per MLB Advanced Media’s Wikipedia page, the streaming platforms for ESPN/Disney, HBO, WWE, and PGA Tour golf all currently run through MLB Advanced Media.

Consider for a moment that HBO – a company that is nothing without content – relies on MLB Advanced Media to stream its content. Now ask yourself if – from a digital marketing standpoint – MLB has done anything noteworthy for itself. (Spoiler Alert: The answer is a definitive no.)

The Challenges of Balance

Baseball’s relationship with ESPN could complicate things if MLB wanted to step up its online presence. ESPN pays MLB to air games; ESPN pays MLB Advanced Media to support the Watch ESPN and ESPN3 streaming apps. MLB might be consciously funneling viewers towards ESPN, since the money ends up MLB’s pockets, anyway.

If that’s the way baseball looks at it, they are doing their fans a disservice. The demographics of baseball’s audience have been laughably old recently. Given Major League Baseball’s ongoing youth movement, one would think they’d eagerly market Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Aaron Judge, and so on, to North America’s youth. Harper definitively has a cultural presence. But how much has he done for himself? And how much has baseball done to market Harper? The New York Yankees Judge is one of the best stories of the season. But not even Yankees fans recognize him! And he’s 6’8!!

Mike Trout is on pace to have a career among the greatest of greats. But his only cultural presence is doing Subway commercials and being the face of something called “SuperPretzel.”

Apple Pie, Baseball, and Capitalism

The power of MLB Advanced Media is probably underappreciated (if not ignored or completely unknown), even by seasoned MLB fans. It’s kind of weird that baseball has a media support system behind it that the NFL or NBA would salivate over, yet MLB seems so far behind those other league digitally. (It’s definitely somewhere between “rain on your wedding day” and “10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife” on the irony scale.)

In comparison to the other leagues, baseball is America’s most conservative sport. Not necessarily politically conservative (although issues like Jackie Robinson and the color barrier certainly overlapped with outright politics), but MLB always seems to go out of its way to measure itself against its own expectations. Which is to say: Baseball, by nature, always keeps itself in check. That even threads its way down to the players. It’s the theme behind all the “unofficial rules” and such. So taking digital risks to try and improve the in-stadium experience would run against the image baseball has created for itself. But profiting off of your excess media power? That’s just good, ol’ fashioned American capitalism.

Fun with Reckless Speculation

Major League Baseball’s media arm may suffer from some PTSD from the Steroid Era. Baseball, for the most part, has always conducted itself as the “nobody’s bigger than the game” league. A few times, stories captivated the nation, and America’s Pastime temporarily morphed into a player-league.

Think about how much of a force LeBron James is in the NBA, or the presence of Tom Brady in the NFL. MLB resists shining the light that brightly on individuals. Its only comparison(s) are when Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio chased Babe Ruth‘s home run record. Or Hank Aaron.

Some of baseball’s greatest players have baggage, in one form or another. In the cases of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc., it’s obvious why the sport would want to distance itself from those guys. Dig deeper. Jackie Robinson’s presence was hugely inspiring, but you don’t get the inspiration without the baggage of acknowledging America’s original sin. Even the aforementioned Hank Aaron’s chase of the career home run record came with some uncomfortable racism. Perhaps MLB has been burned too many times when dabbling with player promotion.

Face Forward

The history of Major League Baseball is its greatest asset. That same history also can shackle a league attempting to move forward. Despite being part of a face-the-past league, Major League Baseball’s media division has not lived up to its capabilities, unless you measure that by the money MLB Advanced Media makes from the WWE, HBO, ESPN/Disney, and the PGA Tour. Either way, it’s inexcusable that baseball’s best player could pass you in the store and you probably wouldn’t recognize him… unless you’re buying SuperPretzels.

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