Rule changes, shorter games, more day games, and more weekend games – All publicly known and widely discussed solutions to the MLB’s inability to captivate a new generation of young fans. In 2013, Nielsen reported the average viewer of the World Series was a whopping 54 years old. The fan base is getting older, and in an era where a lot of brand’s target market lies in the 18-34 rage, this should be a cause for concern for the sponsors, the teams, and the league.
Viewership numbers, a scary reality for partners
When looking at the list of MLB sponsors, few of them would cater to or target a 45+ fan base. Many of the brands such as Anheuser-Busch focus campaigns heavily on the lucrative 18-34 year old market, a fan base that is rapidly declining for most MLB clubs. There is a lot of upside to the game of baseball from a marketers standpoint; fan exposure, content, cultural diversity, and warm weather, among others. But if the attendance and viewership continue to drop and get older, it will be tough for teams to prove their worth to brands, and in turn for the brands to prove a positive ROI to stakeholders.
Will someone please think of the children?
When a young person is searching for information, they look to the internet and often YouTube; they want the information quickly, and effortlessly. The MLB is notorious for deleting any highlight videos posted by users who do not have the coveted “expressed written consent,” making it difficult for a potential new fan to find the videos they are searching for. In the last couple of years, albeit way behind other major sports leagues, they introduced the MLB Classics YouTube Channel. It features full length games, highlights and more. This is a step in the right direction, but it is in the MLB’s best interest to continue efforts to engage the younger generation and make the game more digitally accessible.
Blue Jays fans, just an Anomaly?
Blue Jays fans can be described as Fun, social, energetic, rowdy, and even obnoxious at times. Old-school, nostalgic baseball fans would simply turn their noses to this type of fan base; but could the club’s marketing efforts be a good model for the league to follow? With 50% of their game attendance in 2012 coming from the 18-34 year old range, why wouldn’t they? If you ask a Torontonian why they are drawn to the team, you will likely receive a response that includes a mention of Toonie Tuesdays, (which was scrapped in 2008 due to fighting in the stands) or that it is simply the best place in the city to have beverages with friends in a social and exciting atmosphere. The new standing room only section in the outfield has been a huge success, and has the feel of an outdoor patio. The front office has not been afraid to try innovative ideas, and whether or not they were a success, the fans appreciate it.
The Blue Jays also make a major league effort to cater to families and children. Junior Jays Saturdays have been a massive success and the number of young Blue Jays fans coming to the games with their families continues to grow.
It’s not too late for the MLB to get youth on board with the game of baseball, but they will need to adapt to the digital age in order to maintain a strangle-hold over fast-growing sports such as Major League Soccer. Baseball may never be the sexy high-pace sport Gen Y North American’s cling to, but its unique history and format provide a platform for innovation. Embrace it!