Originally published April 19th, 2012
I’m sitting at the Krispy Kreme down the street from Safeco Field. The rain is pounding, and a pair of women are walking down First Ave South sharing a black umbrella and both shouldering designer bags. Game time is still two hours away, but there’s already a slow stream of fans stopping in to grab a donut on their walk down to the park. The only kids I’ve seen are a trio of teenage guys sitting two booths down talking about skateboards and staying dry. One of them is wearing a Boston cap and a Mariners jersey. It looks like a pretty standard weeknight game for the Mariners as they’re coming off of their lowest single-game attendance in the history of Safeco Field. The Mariners have already struggled to draw fans, and while Opening Day was technically “sold out”, the upper deck corners were sparsely filled. It was the Mariners 3rd Opening Day of the season, and if the Mariners hadn’t had a red carpet, you would have thought it was just another game. When did Opening Day become “just another game”, when it should be a holiday?
I can’t think of a more disappointing Opening Day as a baseball fan. Notice I didn’t say Mariners fan. Opening Day as a Major League event was a complete failure. The NFL had a press event and live countdown last week for their schedules. You would have thought kickoff was in 12 hours. ESPN, Sports radio, Twitter — It was all alive with NFL breakdowns and analysis. Major League Baseball rated page two. Even on their Opening Day the week before (or two weeks before depending on your point of view), Major League Baseball failed to energize their fanbase.
When was Opening Day? For the Mariners, it was a random Wednesday in March at 3 o’clock in the morning. (I was up, I even blogged about it!) Did you watch it? No? Why not? Was it because it was at 3 in the morning, was it because it wasn’t live on MLB Network or ESPN, or was it because you live in Oakland where they didn’t even broadcast it live? What about the rest of Major League Baseball? When was their Opening Day? On a Thursday, and most of them were at night.
This year’s Opening Day felt like the saying “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it will it make a sound?” Sure, there were people in the forest. We heard the tree fall, then shrugged, and went home. When the NFL starts their season, they burn the m-f’ing forest down.
Major League Baseball’s Opening Day schedule was fundamentally flawed. I understand that they were moving away from the NCAA Final Four, but by moving away from tradition they lost that Opening Day sense of excitement and tradition. Opening Day to me is a Sunday night game on ESPN with a BBQ in the backyard, followed by a string of early morning slate of games before my team hits the field between 1 and 3pm. (What about all of those kids that had to go to school that day instead of missing it w/a note or skipping it all together – we are talking tradition here!) Opening Days are supposed to be different from every other game, but by moving it to a night game at the end of the week, they made it just that. A game like any other.
MLB missed the boat, but there are a few specific things they can do to fix it next year:
- Make it BIGGER than it’s ever been before! Cincy has their Opening Day parade every year. (How cool would that be?) MLB should sponsor an Opening Day parade outside of the ballpark of the World Series winner and have the ring ceremony take place at the final stop of the parade — the home park.
- Look at the schedule. What would prevent MLB from scheduling an East Coast game that started at 10 or 11am? Stagger starts for the rest of the day at every 3hrs. From 7am West Coast time until 11pm there is a game being played on the MLB Network. 5 straight games played on their Network for Opening Day. Better yet, what would prevent them from doing it on ESPN and ESPN 2? How awesome would if MLB broadcast every minute of every game over 3 channels on Opening Day? (Every fan’s personal Fan Cave for a day — they could even tie it into the Fan Cave programming kickoff.)
- The event before the event. Major League Baseball has an excellent Social Media hub. Between Twitter, Facebook, their website, Network, and more, MLB has so many outlets they can use to make the lead into the day more exciting. I want ticking clocks running all over the place and on every MLB team site. MLB should pay to run the same ticking promos on other baseball forums and key sites. Combine the building excitement with a flurry of giveaways, scavenger hunts, and player appearances, and Major League Baseball is creating something that will generate a buzz leading into their biggest and most important day of the year.
- Get a sponsor! Where’s McDonalds in all of this? Gear up with a specific chain across America. Have the hats you’d get out of gumball machines in every happy meal. MLB schedules on every cup. Ticket entries in every city. There is an unbelievable amount of opportunity pairing up with a chain and/or retailers during the weeks leading into Opening Day. Make it BIG and get it out where everyone will see it!
Opening Day was a drag this year. (And the Mariners won 2 of the 3 of them, you’d think that would be a good thing!) But the excitement and energy that starts every season just wasn’t there. Worse than that, by losing some of that energy out of the gate, I think they hurt their product to start the season. Look at attendance figures by park. Realize that we’re in tough economic times, but did the lackluster launch of the season hurt MLB out of the gate? It’s an interesting argument.