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Behind The Curve: MLB’s Marketing Dilemma

In recent years, MLB has struggled to market its game, and more importantly its star players. In a previous blog, we analyzed how blackout rules have negatively impacted the accessibility to streaming games domestically and internationally. In addition to blackout rules, several key issues have plagued MLB’s marketing, and most are self-inflicted. A few topics we will discuss include:

  • A rigid and outdated copyright policy limiting content distribution on social media 
  • Lack of domestic and international marketing coordination

While MLB should be focused on enforcing its copyright policies to prevent illegal streams of games, these very rules are hurting the exposure on crucial social media platforms. MLB has overextended these policies to shut down posts on social media sites like Twitter that “violated” copyright. Examples of posts that become removed include sharing GIFs and other very short clips and highlight plays such as diving catches, “filthy” pitches, and home runs. MLB has every right to shutdown this content but should strongly consider letting these slide. These short clips especially when posted by popular pages help generate awareness and increased discussion. “The idea is simple. MLB sees a GIF of a play or highlight and notices that they have the same video hosted on their website. However, when the video is viewed on their website, an ad is played beforehand. On Twitter, it’s not. MLB loses a (probably very tiny) source of revenue. MLB asks Twitter to take it down, Twitter complies.”

Example of a Tweet that violated MLB copyright

The benefits of the awareness and traction these posts can gain outweigh the effort it takes to shut them down and the minimal amount of advertising revenue that is lost. Digital Marketing icon and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk questioned the league's priorities with leveraging digital content. “What's happening here is that Major League Baseball, a decade ago, decided to focus on short-term economics to the detriment of being everywhere where people are and building up their stars. They've suffocated the creativity in the digital space. You can't find any baseball content on the internet unless the league is getting a piece of that through their accounts.”

MLB also suffers from a lack of domestic and international marketing coordination. One downside of MLB’s 162 game regular season compared to other sports is that players have very limited periods of time to engage with advertising partners and participate in campaigns. In 2018, Commissioner Rob Manfred received backlash from fans and organizations after questioning Mike Trout’s engagement in marketing himself and baseball. The Angels quickly came to defense and issued a statement supporting Mike and his commitment to his team and the community. Comments like these furthered the gap between the League Office and players. A fellow star player Justin Verlander also came to the defense of Mike Trout and signaled that MLB was at fault for the lack of marketing success rather than questioning one player. “If Mike Trout wants to spend his offseason in Jersey, hunting and hanging out with his buddies and his family, instead of spending every day doing something for Gatorade, or Powerade, or whatever said company would push his image, he has the right to do that.” Approximately one year after these comments surfaced, a commercial produced by MLB in partnership with Mike Trout displayed an authentic clip of Mike’s humble beginnings and work ethic that made him a star player.

2019 League produced commercial starring Mike Trout

The persistent spreading of blame will serve no productive purpose for MLB or players going forward. In order to strengthen the relationship and hopes of cooperation going forward MLB must explore: 

  • League produced content (similar to Mike Trout commercial) 
  • Negotiate with potential sponsors to film in the player’s home market to reduce travel 
  • Cooperate with MLBPA and let player’s voice their concerns regarding marketing issues

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