Major League Baseball Has a Marketing Problem
Major League Baseball will be holding its 85th All-Star Game at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, in two weeks. Though his 2014 numbers certainly don’t make him a deserving candidate, New York Yankee shortstop and captain Derek Jeter will likely be voted in as a starter by fans eager to see him stand with the sport’s most elite one more time. As Jeter rides off into the sunset after an illustrious, Hall of Fame-caliber career, Major League Baseball is facing a huge branding problem: their most popular athlete is a washed up 40-year-old who is about to retire.
Opinions about the current interest in MLB are rather mixed. While the league itself has made strides, such as integrating more technology into gameplay and making many of its ballparks popular destinations for fans and tourists alike, the fact is that baseball’s core fan base largely consists of Baby Boomers and senior citizens. Meanwhile, average viewership has steadily declined over the past few decades. The 1986 World Series saw an average Nielsen rating of about 36 million per game, while last year’s six game series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals (two teams with a large national following) only drew about 14 million viewers per game. That doesn’t bode well for the future.
In addition to the viewership problem, the face of baseball for the last 20 years is about to leave, making marketability of the sport even harder. While other sports have multiple nationally recognizable stars, such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees of the NFL or Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant of the NBA, baseball has struggled to find a face outside of Jeter. One of the reasons for this is that baseball is more of a regional sport than football or basketball. Great players often aren’t recognized outside of their own cities. To exacerbate the issue, Major League Baseball has been slow to adopt new marketing technology.
However, when considering the current circumstances, Major League Baseball still has its fair share of marketable players who are poised to own this league for years to come. Now in his third year, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is already one of the best all-around players the league has ever seen. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals has celebrity presence and confidence to go along with his powerful swing. These two players are among a long list of young players ready to burst onto the mainstream scene. However, baseball must adopt the right strategy to further promote them.
It appears that the sport won’t regain any lost popularity by simply keeping things the way that they are. Major League Baseball must continue to put itself where Millennials, the largest generation this country has ever seen, are spending most of their time. That means a better mobile strategy, more engaging content, and, while affecting the game isn’t the ideal situation, finding a way to expedite gameplay. If they can do this, more of the next generation’s players will be thrust into the spotlight, meaning that baseball’s marketers won’t have to cling onto the good ol’ days of Number 2.