SBJ/July 17-23, 2017/Events and Attractions

It’s not the heat, it’s the avidity – or lack of it in Miami

The weather in Miami for last week’s MLB All-Star Game was hot and steamy. The local fan interest in baseball’s midsummer classic? Not so much.

Contrary to the heavy local interest last year in San Diego for MLB’s in-season showcase, signs of weakness among South Florida fans abounded. Not only did all three days of ballpark events at Marlins Park fail to truly sell out, but secondary market ticket pricing in some cases fell below face value, generally in keeping with the club’s status as MLB’s third-worst draw at the gate. Turnout for the Red Carpet Parade was minimal with many empty stretches along the downtown Miami route, and FanFest attendance of 111,049 was the lowest of any recent host and 5 percent below last year.

Miami didn’t make a strong statement in TV metrics either, as its 5.6 local market rating for the All-Star Game ranked just 26th, far below the comparable 9.8 rating for San Diego last year that ranked fifth, and a mere fraction of the 22.8 rating Cincinnati produced two years ago, ranking second. And privately, many corporate sponsors and business partners grumbled about the transportation logistics of getting in and out of Marlins Park, getting to other All-Star events in Miami and South Beach, as well as the ongoing renovations to the Miami Beach Convention Center where FanFest was held.

Events at Marlins Park never truly sold out, though the week played well nationally.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


“There were definitely fewer people at FanFest, and sales there for us,” said Jeff Heckman, Topps director of new product development and e-commerce marketplace. “All in all, it was a pretty underwhelming experience.”

But while the local energy may have sagged, the week played well nationally. The surging popularity and Home Run Derby heroics of New York Yankees rookie phenom Aaron Judge smoothed over a lot of those local issues. ESPN’s national ratings for the Derby grew 55 percent to an average live audience of 8.7 million viewers, highest since 2008. And Fox’s more modest 7 percent growth in All-Star Game viewership to an average of 9.4 million people still rebounded from last year’s record-low total. Topps posted record sales for its Topps Now on-demand card service based on two Judge cards.

The Marlins themselves sought to put a brave face on the various indicators. Team President David Samson said ticket sales were above budget forecasts made with the league. He also highlighted legacy projects that included renovating several youth fields.

“This has been a great week, and has served to leave a lasting impact on this market,” Samson said.

A LITTLE OFF THE TOP: As has been the case since first signing with MLB in 2013, wireless carrier T-Mobile had a significant presence in and around Miami for the All-Star Game. The title sponsor for the Home Run Derby, T-Mobile turned its retail store in Miami Beach near FanFest into a baseball-themed barbershop in which Hugo Tandron, the official barber of the Marlins and slugger Giancarlo Stanton, gave several different types of player-inspired cuts free to consumers. Company officials said the unusual activation was squarely in keeping with company strategy.

T-Mobile, always trying to stand out, had a baseball-themed barbershop at a retail store.
Photo by: T-MOBILE
“We always try to do things that stand out differently since we’re a disruptive brand,” said Mike Belcher, T-Mobile vice president of media and partnerships. “We also want to do things that are going to resonate, particularly on social, and this definitely fit the bill. People are really engaged with this and posting lots of photos from here.”

The company generated a 25 percent increase in participants in its Home Run Derby Bracket Challenge, surpassing 100,000.

NATIONALS ON THE CLOCK: The Washington Nationals are on deck as next year’s All-Star Game host club and sent a 15-person contingent to Miami to shadow their Marlins counterpart during the week. But unlike the Marlins and the weak ticket demand that marked last week’s festivities, the Nationals are struggling with how to satisfy fervent demand for the 2018 event.

The Nationals at the break ranked 11th in the league in per-game attendance, have a season-ticket base of about 20,000 full-season equivalents, and already are forecasting franchise-record levels of season-ticket sales for 2018. But once full-season plan holders are satisfied, the club is expecting they will have to offer partial plan buyers All-Star Game ticket availability based on tenure.

“We’re going to have a shortfall after the league takes the inventory they do for their purposes and there’s going to be little inventory going out to the public,” said Valerie Camillo, Nationals chief revenue and marketing officer. “So we’re working through all of that and figuring out what other things we can do with our plan holder base.”

Among the options on the table are traditional ones such as tickets to FanFest and the Futures Game, which typically has far less demand than the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game itself. But Camillo said the Nationals are also exploring the creation of other potential All-Star Game events strictly for that group of plan holders.

Specific site decisions for many of next year’s All-Star Game events have yet to be made. But beyond the obvious Nationals Park-based functions and others also within the District of Columbia, the club and MLB are looking to incorporate suburban locales in Maryland and Virginia. The Nationals will also have the advantage of a heavily used regional Metro system that has direct access to the ballpark.

“Our market is really unique, and we definitely want to engage Maryland and Virginia as much as we can,” Camillo said.

A logo unveiling for the 2018 All-Star Game is tentatively slated for the week of July 24.

Sponsor Old Dominion asked fans to guess how many baseballs make a truckload.
Photo by: ERIC FISHER / STAFF
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Old Dominion, MLB’s newly designated official freight carrier, is looking to use its MLB partnership to “make trucking sexy,” in the words of David Carter, the company’s vice president of marketing and communications. North Carolina-based Old Dominion arrived at the All-Star Game and the sponsor zone of Marlins Park with a custom-built trailer with clear panels to show thousands of baseballs stored inside. The effort was part of a sweepstakes for World Series tickets in which fans guessed the number of balls needed to fill the entire trailer.

Beyond that specific contest, the MLB logo is now on every Old Dominion trailer, amounting to more than 30,000 vehicles. And more than 200 of those have larger wraps featuring former MLB players Edgar Martinez and Scott Podsednik. Prior to striking the MLB deal this year, Old Dominion held seven team-level partnerships. But it is now looking to do more with the league, and is developing plans to handle the trucking for most MLB clubs to deliver their gear for 2018 spring training in Florida and Arizona.

“We’re going to make Truck Day for the teams much more of an event, both leaving and arriving,” Carter said. “But this has also elevated our brand. We’re primarily a [business-to-business] brand, and this deal with MLB has gained a lot of notice in our freight world.”

SWINGING FOR THE VIRTUAL FENCE: Among the most popular attractions at MLB FanFest was a virtual reality-based version of MLB Advanced Media’s Home Run Derby video game. Fans would step into an actual batting cage, put on a VR headset, and swing an actual bat, with the immersive recreation of Marlins Park providing a full sensory, interactive version of the real Derby. At peak times, waits to play stretched toward two hours, even with MLBAM cycling through each fan in roughly three minutes.

MLBAM’s VR Home Run Derby was a hit at FanFest and may show up elsewhere.
Photo by: MLBAM
Baseball’s digital arm is now looking at how to take the experience elsewhere. The setup for the game at FanFest was similar to what was done for the MLB Battlegrounds event in London earlier this month. The full set of equipment MLBAM used was worth about $5,000, preventing in the near term any individual distribution of the game to consumers. But Jamie Leece, MLBAM vice president of games and VR, said several teams have inquired about setting up similar attractions at their ballparks as a fan experience element.

“There definitely have been inquiries about ballpark installations, and we’re going through that now,” Leece said. “But more broadly we’re very encouraged about the prospects for this. Reaction has been really strong for this at FanFest, and engagement for the regular Home Run Derby game is up, too.”

MLBAM also got in the celebratory Judge act, quickly issuing a special Derby championship add-on to the game that included a new version of the Judge avatar.

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