SBJ/December 5-11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Same site with new twists for MLB’s Fan Cave

Near the end of a lengthy and detail-laden MLB ownership meeting late last season, a weary Tim Brosnan was desperately trying to draw the session to a close. Budget spreadsheets were folded, projections had been detailed. Three and a half hours into the session at a Cooperstown, N.Y., hotel, surely there was no more business to discuss.

But Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner wouldn’t let Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business, end the meeting before getting an update on the league’s leading social media initiative.

The holidays are cozy at the Cave, where MLB will be pitching sponsors this week.
Photo by: MLB
“You didn’t tell us about next year’s Fan Cave yet,” Werner insisted.

After a season during which MLB’s social media experiment yielded 236 million social media impressions and 1.3 billion total media impressions; attracted more than 250,000 Facebook and Twitter followers; led to visits by 66 current MLB players and 28 former players; and generated more than 300 online videos, ownership didn’t have to be convinced that another year is a worthwhile expenditure. So, MLB will announce this week that it will return to the 15,000-square-foot Greenwich Village space in which a pair of fans watched every MLB game last season, generating buzz and social media content and making the national pastime just a bit more contemporary.

In its first year, the Fan Cave’s two inhabitants were selected before the season by MLB. In 2012, the Cave will look more like “Survivor,” starting with perhaps six or so fans who will then be thinned out based on voting and other social media interaction. Look for sponsored “challenges” to be integrated, too.

MLB has also spoken to some of its clubs about building their own Fan Caves.

The Cave itself, at Fourth Street and Broadway, has been redecorated with a holiday motif, all the better for an MLB schmooze this week at which league marketers will try to cash in on the Cave’s success. They’ll look to sell more and deeper sponsor and licensee integration before the space is redesigned and reopened in time for spring training and the season next year.

One of the Fan Cave highlights was an August LMFAO concert. On other days, Sublime with Rome and Los Lonely Boys performed. “We saw music was a big draw, so we will look to grow that,” said Jacqueline Parkes, MLB chief marketing officer.

As is the case across marketing, there are more soft measures than hard metrics regarding the Fan Cave. Still, anyone engaged in social media will admit they are experimenting. MLB is just doing it on a grander, more public scale. There is an imperative for marketers to harness the power of social media, but clarity is in short supply.

“I’ve got 10 new social media experts every hour in my inbox,” said Jim Lyski, CMO at Scotts Miracle-Gro, during this year’s SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Sports Marketing Symposium.

At a time when the call for ROI is an ever-steady drumbeat, Brosnan said the Fan Cave brought baseball to the social media water cooler cost-effectively.

“I can’t put an exact number on all that, but what we told owners was that for the cost of one fancy commercial campaign, not including the media buy, we generated all those impressions,” he said. “We created social touch points for baseball fans and non-baseball fans, who then adopted this baseball-themed social platform as their own. We attracted plenty of fans, but we also attracted customers.”

According to MLB agency Hill Holiday, the average avid MLB fan is 45, while the Fan Cave fan is 30. “The goal was to have consumers engage in our game in a different way and to share that experience,” Parkes said. “We exceeded that goal and did so with an audience that’s substantially younger.”

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