SBJ/October 31-November 6, 2011/Events and Attractions

MLB Fan Cave earns a new season

The World Series last week marked the end of the debut year of the MLB Fan Cave, a bold experiment for the league blending social media, pop culture and the seemingly audacious idea of two fans watching all 2,429 regular-season games, and then the playoffs, of the 2011 season.

The two chosen fans, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, traveled to both World Series sites, creating an extensive series of behind-the-scenes videos and social media posts. Meanwhile, league executives were already looking forward to next year.

MLB announced during the Series that the Fan Cave will definitely return next year. The site, this year a space designed by Paul Dimeo of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in a former Tower Records store in lower Manhattan, will again be in New York. MLB will work with real estate outfit Vornado Realty Trust, its former partner in the ultimately aborted effort from several years ago to put the MLB Network headquarters in Harlem, on selecting the next Fan Cave location. But beyond that, no plans have been set.

Fan Cave denizens O’Hara (left) and Wagner (center) chat with the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson.
Photo by: MLB
“We now have a 24/7 focus on a social media space that obviously moves at a 24/7 pace,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business. “The goal was to be part of that conversation, and with the Fan Cave, we were able to achieve that.”

The Fan Cave generated more than 100 million social media impressions, and 150,000 combined new Facebook fans and Twitter followers. More than 100 active and former players and celebrities visited during the season. It also helped MLB get younger: The average Fan Cave fan is 28 years old, compared with the 45-year-old that represents a typical avid MLB fan.

All that emerged from something that in January, just weeks before spring training, was no more than a loose concept with no written business plan or budget.

MLB declined to identify its spending this year on the Fan Cave, but Brosnan said the whole effort cost less than would “a highly produced, traditional TV ad campaign that a few years ago we probably would have done.”

The Fan Cave also directly influenced MLB’s choice of national anthem singers during the World Series. Teen pop star Demi Lovato, a native of Dallas, did not make the final cut of singers. But her sister, Dallas, initiated a social media campaign to have her sing at one of the games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, rallying the 4.8 million followers of the official Demi Lovato Twitter feed. After thousands of such requests arrived to the @MLB feed, @MLB_PR public relations feed, @Rangers feed and other official destinations, Lovato was added as the Game 5 singer.

“I told [Lovato], ‘You’ve got your sister to thank for this.’ We had alternate singers lined up,” Brosnan said. “But you have to listen to your fans, and this was an indication of how much we’re now really on the social space every single day.”

PUBLIC RELATIONS BUMP
: The World Series, and playoffs in general, also represented a marked increase for the MLB public relations staff’s social media reach. The year-old @MLB_PR feed grew more than 20 percent in reach just during the month of October, reaching nearly 33,000 followers at press time. And news of the Lovato selection as Game 5 national anthem singer was retweeted more than 1,600 times, roughly five times more than any other single tweet from the feed.

THERE’S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR: Even during the World Series, perhaps the most competitive on the field in nearly a decade, significant media focus remained on the 2012 season in various ways. A sizable portion of the World Series press contingent left Texas before or during Game 5 to cover news conferences last Tuesday in Chicago and Boston in which new heads of baseball operations were announced after Theo Epstein’s move from the Red Sox to the Cubs. Such editorial decisions highlighted the increasingly parochial nature of baseball and intense fan interest in local teams, somewhat at the expense of the national baseball scene.

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak found himself constantly questioned about the status of manager Tony LaRussa and star first baseman Albert Pujols, neither of whom is under contract for 2012. And questions swirled continually about the status of MLB’s labor negotiations with the MLB Players Association, a deal likely to be signed soon that would take effect beginning with the free agent signing period leading into next season.

Because the Cardinals looked to be out of the postseason picture in late August before mounting a furious comeback, Mozeliak said, the club had gotten a start on preparatory work for the offseason. “Of course, given the excitement of the last three weeks,” he said, “it’s been somewhat slowed down.”

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