While the long summer months can make it difficult to sustain fan enthusiasm and digital engagement, the playoffs tend to kick things into high gear, and this year, MLBAM pulled out all the stops to make this a digital postseason to remember.
The twists and turns of the stories on the field helped generate strong television ratings, creating an opportunity to amplify the excitement of October far beyond game time. What’s more, of the 10 MLB teams with the largest social fan bases, seven found themselves in the 2015 postseason, providing a built-in advantage in mass reach.
With compelling storylines, larger audiences and the resurgence of iconic franchises, the bases were loaded. It was up to MLBAM to flex its digital muscle across league and team channels to capitalize on this unique moment.
At stake: This postseason was an opportunity to re-energize fans of playoff mainstays and dark horses alike and, even more important, to leverage this opportunity to bring a young audience with fading interest in baseball back into the fold. MLBAM needed to cover the postseason in a manner uniquely digital, with a fresh and exciting approach to storytelling and a focus on meaningful fan interaction.
Through a handful of smart partnerships and a modern take on digital content, MLB seized its most exciting month of the year and hit it out of the park.
Below are 10 examples, both large and small, of what the league did right during this year’s playoffs:
Sticker Keyboard and Fatheads
Why it was a big hit: Not only did the keyboard provide value to fans illustrating that MLB is dialed in to user behavior, the in-stadium promotion brought the live game experience to life in a unique way and garnered additional buzz.
Why it was a big hit: Much like the Twitter Mirror, implemented successfully across celebrity-studded events like the Oscars for the past couple of years, the SnapBat is about making content creation something the players actually want to do. Rather than piling on yet another media obligation during a stressful time, the SnapBat made supporting the MLB’s social channels fun for the stars of the game, and it generated authentic content that allowed fans to connect with their idols on a more personal level.
Snapchat Live Stories and Filters
Having already seen great success with MLB Wednesdays stories throughout the season, MLB furthered its close partnership with Snapchat to create five Live Stories throughout the 2015 postseason (game one of the American League Division Series, the Chicago Cubs’ clinching celebration, games one and five of the World Series and the World Series parade). Custom geofilters at every ballpark also allowed fans to personalize their own stories.
Why it was a big hit: With Snapchat increasing in importance when it comes to meaningful digital engagement with a young audience, MLB found a way to create content in smart and exciting ways. The Live Stories feature allowed fans tuning in on TV to see the in-stadium perspective, pulling in casual fans who might not otherwise watch any game-related content. The custom fan filters allowed individuals to share their MLB-branded postseason experiences with friends, extending the organic reach of MLB’s Snapchat content.
The Houston Astros star–an American League Rookie of the Year candidate–was a social media correspondent for MLB.com during the World Series. Carlos Correa interviewed players and celebrities during the Fall Classic, including Kansas City Royals super-fan Paul Rudd.
Why it was a big hit: The advantage that teams and leagues have in their digital coverage of the game is an ability to differentiate with a unique perspective. Media outlets are covering the live action and evaluating every moment, so MLB needed to find a way to rise above that noise to make its coverage equally compelling and relevant. Bringing in Correa was a brilliant move by MLB to leverage his unique insider’s perspective and reputation with fans.
MLB teamed up with Facebook to create a Messenger bot during World Series games. Curated by the MLB social team, the bot sent out updates during World Series games, including play-by-play, photos and GIFs of the action.
Why it was a big hit: This is yet another example of MLB understanding where its target audience lives and speaking to them on their channels, in their language. Launched just four years ago, Facebook’s stand-alone Messenger application now serves more than 700 million active users–more than double that of Twitter. Today, four of the top six social apps are messaging apps, and this one-to-one medium of communication has become the preferred method of digital interaction for young people.
By implementing a bot that generated useful information and fun content, MLB was able to insert itself into this direct messaging format at scale, reaching baseball’s young target demographic where and how they live online.
MLB Facebook Filters
Why it was a big hit: With the first implementation of these filters on Facebook, the platform saw 26 million users change their profile photos to rainbow filters in support of marriage equality. Clearly, this is a powerful way to allow users to show their support, and MLB took full advantage by rolling this out for the postseason.
Twitter Moments Exclusive Partnership
MLB.com partnered with Twitter as the only sports league featured for the launch of its new product, Moments. In addition to Moments, MLB created exclusive Twitter emojis for #postseason, #WildCard, #WorldSeries and all 10 postseason teams, which were removed once each team was eliminated.
Why it was a big hit: Twitter is most powerful when it’s used around real-time conversation related to live action, and this partnership capitalized on this behavior. Expiring emojis created a sense of urgency and exclusivity for fans, while the launch of Moments was a chance to capitalize on one of Twitter’s biggest product releases in recent history, leveraging the momentum of the press and user traffic at an opportune time.
MLBAM and Vixlet partnered to create MLB Fans, the league’s official social network. During the postseason, MLB Fans housed exclusive postseason content, including behind-the-scenes photos and authentics.
Why it was a big hit: An owned destination for die-hard fans is a smart move for MLB. Having a dedicated fan platform created specifically for hardcore baseball fans that want a deeper experience than just following along on social allows MLB to segment out its digital audience even further, building a valuable audience and database for future message targeting.
Instagram Photo Studio
On World Series Media Day, MLB teamed up with photographer Nick Vedros to create a photo studio for a candid shoot with players. More than 20 Mets and Royals took part in the photo shoot, creating bold images that were shared socially and on MLB.com.
Why it was a big hit: This is a great way to do Instagram. By using portraits by a professional photographer, MLB showed that it knows what fans want–the same type of artful content they expect to see from any user their fans follow on this platform. Even if the ultimate goal is to push a brand message, the content must be tailored to fit the platform, rather than forcing a message into an environment where it doesn’t belong. Focusing on a quality first approach here delivered strong results.
Postseason Quiz Series
Which Royals player are you? Are you more National League or AL? MLB and Cut4 created more than 15 quizzes for fans of both postseason and non-postseason teams.
Why it was a big hit: This goes to show that you don’t always have to be first to be seen as innovative. While breaking new ground is an important part of keeping fans waiting to see what MLB will do next, using proven mechanisms like quizzes still brings fans the entertainment they seek and garner solid engagement.
Look for new innovation by MLB this upcoming spring training, as the league continues to flex its grasp of the digital media landscape.
Craig Howe is the founder and CEO of sports digital strategy and tech venture firm Rebel Ventures, where he has worked with franchises including MLB’s Boston Red Sox, the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and international soccer powerhouse clubs Real Madrid and Liverpool FC.
Diana Klochkova is Rebel Ventures’ vice president of digital strategy and analytics, and she counts a stint with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders among her previous jobs, as well as positions with Levi Strauss & Co. and Resolution Media.