Blue Jays Facebook Broadcast shows MLB’s Ability to Evolve

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 18: Curtis Granderson
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 18: Curtis Granderson /

So you hated the Blue Jays Facebook broadcast? That’s because it was designed for you. It was a choice made in order to benefit the future interest in the league.

The Blue Jays Facebook broadcast received a lot of negative reviews, based on what I saw on Twitter. However, before we collectively bash Major League Baseball’s choice to broadcast on Facebook, I think a wider discussion about the marketing of baseball and its stars should be considered.

I will preface this argument with two general problems I encountered with the broadcast. First, I think the choice to use Facebook as the social media platform was a misguided move by Major League Baseball. Facebook is a dying medium and I would have preferred this experiment to be carried out through Twitter. Secondly, the exclusive broadcast rights felt forced and ran the risk of alienating hardcore baseball fans.

Despite all of this, I commend the MLB for taking a chance with this idea. Baseball is quickly losing young viewership and realizes the danger that this could bring. By providing a broadcast through social media, baseball took a step in the right direction towards becoming more relevant in the modern world.

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Already, the Facebook broadcast has gained traction. In the first broadcast, the Brewers game pulled in around 58,000 viewers. The Blue Jays game, by my observation, reached a little over 70,000 viewers at its height. While these are not great numbers, it must be understood that change takes time.

I believe that marketing baseball’s stars through social media is a viable strategy for increasing the popularity of the game. Social media has taken over the world and has allowed fans to interact directly with their heroes and enemies alike. By marketing the major stars of baseball, the sport becomes more relevant to the casual fan.

No league has accomplished more through interacting with social media than the NBA. Currently, Lebron James has amassed over 41 million followers on Twitter and Kevin Durant has an impressive 17.5 million followers. For reference, Mike Trout, widely believed to be the face of baseball, has just 2.5 million followers on Twitter.

The casual fan can identify and follow the activities of both Durant and James. Even if they are not fans of the Cavs or Warriors, they can be fans of James and Durant. Through this fandom they are introduced to the teams that Durant and James represent and are encouraged to learn more about the league. The fan is sucked into the interactive, wild world of basketball social media.

This is what baseball could benefit from. The game features a long season, with increasingly long games. A casual fan has a hard time picking up the game because it is not a constant action sport. However, if they are a fan of a specific athlete, they may be encouraged to follow the career of that player. Then, once they have begun following the career of that athlete, they may gain a better appreciation for the sport and league in general.

For example, a noted baseball social media presence is Marcus Stroman. Fans feel connected to him because he interacts with them daily and provides a window into his life. While he may be dragged through the mud for his social media presence by traditional baseball media, this criticism is misguided and indicative of the set-in-its-ways style that baseball employs.

Instead of criticizing and belittling people like Stroman, his social media presence should be celebrated and promoted by the league. Ask a casual fan of the Jays to name a player, one of the most common names offered will be Stroman—even in 2016 when he had a down year. This is, in part, because he is accessible, he shows emotion, he interacts with fans, and he becomes a human, not just an athlete.

This is the key of the Facebook broadcast. The social media presence increases the visibility of baseball and humanizes the players of the sport. While many griped and complained about the in-game interviews, this is a key factor of the medium.

If the league wants to market its stars, fans must feel a connection to them. The broadcast interviewed John Gibbons, Ned Yost, Danny Duffy, and Aaron Sanchez. The viewer was able to feel a connection to the interviewees because they saw their personality. The athletes became humanized in the mind of the fan. Despite the unenthusiastic mumbling of Danny Duffy, for example, his personality began to seep through. Who knew he and Jeremy Guthrie were fans of Robin Thicke and Avril Lavigne?

The interviews were gimmicky and poorly placed, but it allows the casual fan to place a voice and personality to a player—something the league desperately lacks. Even better, many of these questions were submitted by fans, providing even more connection.

Our new world is driven by constant interaction. The NBA has become a relative melodrama with all of the online feuds and interactions between both fans and players. These interactions add drama to the sport and they draw in people who would not usually watch basketball; they are drawn in by the reality-show atmosphere.

While I’m not suggesting that baseball players start having petty arguments over social media, I think that an integration of social media and baseball is what is needed. It attracts the casual fan that does not initially have interest. They are drawn in by the novelty of the accessible online athlete. A personal connection can be established and an emotional fandom can be developed.

So, before you take to Twitter to scream your outrage about the broadcast format, consider the bigger picture. Sure, the format doesn’t appeal to the hard-core baseball fan, but it was never meant to. These choices are made in service of the popularity of the league.

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We live in a constantly evolving world and the worst thing baseball could do is become a dinosaur, refusing to change. If baseball doesn’t evolve, the game will suffer. Baseball has shown the ability to change with its recent acceptance of increased emotion in game—I would argue that this has also helped the popularity of the league. Now baseball has another step to take. The Facebook broadcast is flawed and requires tweaking. However, Major League Baseball has their mind in the right place.