Originally published June 4th, 2012
I love Major League Baseball’s “Generations” commercial. Every time I see it I get chills and want to take my kids to a ballgame. I’m not kidding, every time. I love the balance of young and old, I love that it’s fathers and sons, and fathers and daughters. It’s one of those commercials that makes me feel good and it invokes a feeling of nostalgia that creates a huge connection with adult males with children. Major League Baseball is clearly sending a message beyond just selling tickets; this is about getting kids to the park, and securing future fans in the process. It’s the right message, and it’s the right time.
The “Generations” ad spot is a great start to driving youth attendance, but it’s too indirect. The commercial doesn’t resonate with kids, it only grabs the adults. While I may make the ultimate buying decision, my kids are still the biggest influencer, and they react and interact differently than adults. I see it every day in the shows they watch and the commercials they react too. Major League Baseball needs to look at how they’re engaging younger fans at home. Look at the Seattle Mariners demographics report. In 2006, approximately 7% of fans were 17 and under. 14% were 18-24, 19% were 25-34, and attendance peaked at 23% 35-44. How teams attempt to influence the under 17 crowd is going to be paramount to future success. If fan disbursement wasn’t a strong enough indicator, consider that according to the National Sporting Goods Association, the number of kids age 7 to 17 playing youth baseball had declined 24%. That’s a scary number, and it’s all about diversions and technology — MLB has done a fantastic job of using technology and social media to engage older fans. Look at the MLB At Bat app, the MLB Network, and the teams use of Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Google +, etc. Major League Baseball could be going after the younger market the same way!
Yes, the League has a designated site for kids. But, it’s horrible, outdated, and slow. Here’s a snapshot of their “Club MLB” site. It hasn’t been updated in over 5 years. I know it hasn’t been updated, because I go there every season to print out the coloring pages for… um, the kids…. yeah. The game dome is awful and there’s very little interactivity on the site.
Worse than Club MLB is the MLB.com/Kids link. Does this look fun to you as an adult, let alone as an 8 year old?
What MLB Can Do About It!
Major League Baseball needs to focus the same attention on kids as they do adults, if not more! That starts with some targeted solutions:
#1 Create a designated website. Kids should be able to go there and customize their own avatar, complete with team jersey. Make the kids feel like they’re part of the team. They should be able to click on player profiles and see baseball cards with easy to understand key stats. I would have a comic artist come in and do animated-looking player cards too, so the kids can alternate how they want to view the player. There should be interactive ballpark tours for every team, that in a perfect world would either be video hosted by a child, or by the team’s mascot. I have more ideas for this than I can even list, but you get the idea, they need a complete overhaul. (See the “Hire Doug!” link at the top of the page if you want more. Ha-ha.)
#2 Create kid-centric apps. Apple has sold over 200 million iOS products. That’s a lot of iPods, iPhones, and iPads. That doesn’t account for other tablet manufacturers, Android units, or Blackberry. That’s just Apple — over 200 million. How many times do you see a kid in a shopping cart playing a game on their parents iPhone? What about on an airplane, or a train, or in a restaurant? How do your kids use them at home? My 6 and 8yr old daughters are better on my wife’s iPhone than she is. Kids understand and use them! Where are MLB branded gaming apps? If you want to connect kids to your product, you have to get it in their hands! There are some really fun and popular existing platforms out there — why couldn’t MLB partner with them? Go back to the examples of the Club MLB above. Would you rather spend time on that, or on something like this?
#3 Advertising and Programming. Where are the ads on Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel? I discussed the idea of having a comic artist create animated-profiles for each player. Could that be transitioned into an animated series or special? Believe it or not, Hulk Hogan and Friends had their own cartoon in the 80’s. Why couldn’t MLB create a series where players are “fighting” aliens using super-powered fastballs and magic bats? At the very least create advertising geared towards kids and have it on during the shows they watch. Kids influence buying decisions. I haven’t got them the lame bath stuff that turns the tub into a slushee yet, but they do have Happy Nappers (and can sing the theme song). Beyond Cartoon Network or Disney, where is the kid-centric programming on MLB Network? Get your product in front of them in a format they relate to!
It’s an exciting time to be a baseball fan. Major League Baseball has moved out of the shadow of steroids, and is seeing an influx of exciting young players! It’s the perfect time to get kids involved and interested in the game of baseball. But, it’s all going to come down to how Major League Baseball attacks that market segment! There isn’t a better time for it, and better than that, the National Football League, NBA, and NHL haven’t figured it out yet either. It’s time for Major League Baseball to continue to innovate and improve how they interact with fans, while creating a market for tomorrow.