World Series Caps A Social Year For Major League Baseball

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ML FanCav logo

MLB Fan Cave helped generate new fan engagement in a sport that's seen dwindling attendance the past three seasons.

It seems odd to talk about fan engagement at the end of the sports season. The competition has boiled down to two teams, and, quite frankly, many fans have moved on because their teams are no longer in contention.

Still, Major League Baseball execs can bask in the glow of another Fall Classic knowing the past season was successful on several levels. Most importantly, attendance figures were up in 2011. Major League Baseball’s social media engagement were way up, thanks to some successful social media risk-taking and increased player participation on social networks.

The rising star in social media and sports is arguably Major League Baseball’s Fan Cave, a “first-of-its-kind immersive fan experience” housed in New York City and hosted by two super fans chosen from nearly 10,000 applicants. Talk about dream job!

The winners, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, were paid to watch all 2,430 MLB regular season games AND every postseason game. They shared the experience with the world on Facebook, Twitter and a blog on MLBFanCave.com.

It was an impressive run, generating more than 100 million social media impressions for Major League Baseball in just six months, according the ESPN.

“[The Fan Cave] accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish, which was we wanted to become part of the online social conversation this summer,” MLB executive vice president Tim Brosnan told ESPN.

The Fan Cave experiment paid dividends in the traditionally tough and snarky digital realm, bucking a trend of low engagement and negative sentiment. ESPN reports 45 percent of tweets about Fan Cave were positive, compared to 15-20 percent for accounts representing the league and its teams. That just doesn’t happen in one season.

Social engagement is higher for Fan Cave, too, according to ESPN, a full 20-25 percent better than team and league pages. It’s a model other leagues and individual teams are sure to copy. Can you say New York Yankee Fan Cave?

While there’s no way to directly tie attendance to online efforts, Major League Baseball teams overtuned dwindling attendance figures in 2011. For the first time in three seasons, the leauge enjoyed growth in ticket sales.

In today’s economy – and the economy of the future – meeting the customers where they are has to include a social media strategy. For the most part, MLB Fan Cave did it right in 2011. Its success will likely lead to bigger and better things for sports and social media. And that’s a good thing.

Thanks for being a fan.

Tweetups Can Bring Fans Back to Major League Baseball

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Major League Baseball can learn something from the NASA Tweetup experience.

Major League Baseball is having an attendance problem this season. As of June 9, ticket sales are down nearly 500,000 from a year ago. Blame it on the economy, lousy weather, apathetic fans. Whatever the cause, it’s hurting the great game of baseball

Underneath MLB attendance woes, however, is a word-of-mouth problem. People aren’t talking about baseball. How can the league – and its teams – generate more interest in the game and bring fans back to the ballpark? It’s a multi-faceted approach for sure, but social media is (and should be) a growing area of focus.

The @MLBFanCave is one way Major League Baseball engages fans in a social space. Individual teams also make social engagement a focus, as seen with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.

Boston fans were recently invited to a tweetup at Fenway Park. I liked the idea, but thought the Red Sox marketing team could’ve done better. And perhaps they will in future tweetups. (It was the inaugural one.)

As a veteran of the recent STS-134 NASA Tweetup for the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, I believe Major League Baseball clubs could learn a thing or two about tweetups from NASA.

With that in mind, here are my nine tips successful MLB fan tweetup:

Don’t cheap out. Run a tweetup on a shoestring budget at your own peril. To maximize word-of-mouth, put some dollars behind your first effort. It’s OK to charge fans a price, but to get real engagement, consider selecting a few lucky fans to “win” a tweetup spot.

Give them good seats. Since attendance is an issue, good seats should be plentiful. Skip the luxury box, though. These are real fans who need to be seen and heard.

Give them swag. This could include a game program, game ball, team gear, etc. And provide matching T-shirts for everyone to wear (or order), so they can be easily recognized on the TV broadcast and scoreboard.

Snap a group photo. Make time to get everyone together – maybe even on the field – where you can capture the moment. Post the photo on the team’s Twitter feed and Facebook page so everyone can tag it and share it with their networks. 

Provide access to players, team leadership and stadium. Again, your goal is word-of-mouth, and nothing gets people talking on social networks more than getting access to hard-to-access people and places. This could include a tour of the locker rooms, front office and cool stadium areas (like the scoreboard or PA announcer).

Publicize. This is (usually) free and easy. Recognize tweetup participants on the big screen. Have your TV and radio broadcast teams mention them (and the all-important hashtag) on the air. Pitch the story to the technology reporter at the city paper. Promote the event frequently on Facebook, Twitter and your website.

Get players involved. Many MLB players use Twitter to interact with fans, so it makes sense to invite them to engage with tweetup participants and tweet about your event. This might be the highlight for some fans.

Invite a celebrity. Your team likely has a local or national celebrity who’s also on Twitter. Including them in the mix provides star power and one more reason to get people talking about your event.

Post-game follow-up. Publish a recap of the tweetup on your website, including photos and an archive of the hashtagged content. Link to blogs of participants. Post everything on Facebook and Twitter, too (obviously).

How does a team start a fan tweetup? There are a couple of options. The easiest is a lottery-style sign-up, or special ticket offer. But for your first tweetup, I’d recommend seeking out engaged fans.

In that case, consider creating a Klout perk. They’re relatively inexpensive and Klout will do much of the leg work identifying the most-engaged fans in your city, inviting them to your tweetup.

Whatever way teams organize tweetups, the goal is the same: Reach new fans through social media. Provide something unique to get fans talking about your team, players, stadium, etc., at a time when attendance – and interest – is lagging.

Word-of-mouth is what social media is all about. And a tweetup experience – done right – will generate the buzz MLB teams need to get folks in the seats. Have ideas to get more fans involved? I’d love to see them in the comments.

Thanks for being a fan.