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Volume 21 No. 2

Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLB has seen a significant increase in social media activity around the postseason, extending a surge in fan interest that began at the All-Star Game in July.

According to Bluefin Labs, the Massachusetts-based social TV analytics firm working with the league, the first six days of the playoffs generated more than 2.62 million social media comments on Twitter and Facebook, encompassing 16 games Oct. 5-10. The sum is more than twice the total for the entire 19-game league division series round last year, with featured three Game 5s.

In the five minutes after a dramatic game-tying home run Wednesday by New York Yankees designated hitter Raul Ibanez, MLB set a league postseason social mark with 38,549 social media comments. Ibanez then fueled another record later that night when his game-winning home run generated 74,792 social media comments in the five minutes afterward. MLB expects both totals to be surpassed as the playoffs continue.

Like many properties and media networks, MLB this year is placing greater emphasis in social media monitoring, analysis and programming, seen in part through vehicles such as the MLB Fan Cave that carry an overt element of generating content for the league’s Twitter and Facebook destinations. Playoff ratings on TBS as of press time were flat compared with the beginning of the 2011 postseason, but league executives said the heightened social media activity represents a critical component of overall fan engagement in the sport’s most prominent month.

“The social media activity has been a significant complement to what’s happening on TV with our broadcast partners, and it has directly informed our content creation and our programming decisions on a truly real-time basis,” said Jacqueline Parkes, MLB chief marketing officer.

During the summer, MLB and Bluefin Labs reported more than 804,000 social media comments for the July 10 Home Run Derby in Kansas City and more than 808,000 for the All-Star Game the following night. The Home Run Derby figure was more than twice the 2011 derby in Phoenix, while the All-Star Game total tripled the prior year’s event. Those events prominently featured in-event tweeting and Facebook posts from participating players, including the first effort during the All-Star Game once players came out of the game.

Reds pitchers Aroldis Chapman (left) and Bronson Arroyo sang “Red Hooded Sweatshirt” at the MLB Fan Cave, which went viral and later became a promo for TBS playoff broadcasts.
MLB’s social media activity has directly influenced elements of postseason game broadcasts this fall. For example, a Fan Cave video shot in June featuring Cincinnati pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman singing “Red Hooded Sweatshirt,” first made famous by comedian Adam Sandler on “Saturday Night Live,” quickly went viral online. With the Reds in the playoffs as NL Central champions, MLB recently cut that video down to a 30-second TV promo airing during TBS playoff game broadcasts, sparking a new wave of social media activity and views of the full song video.

Daily reports produced by MLB’s research staff and ad agency Hill Holliday, incorporating the Bluefin Labs social media data, similarly suggest poll topics for the league and broadcast partners to post online and on TV. The reports also outline key tweets and posts from influencers such as MLB players and celebrities.

“We’ve been able to get much more real-time in our analysis through social and work directly with our broadcast partners, with [MLB Advanced Media], determine what’s trending socially, respond to that, and try to optimize on that data,” Parkes said.

Despite the recent social media gains, baseball still trails pro football in peak social media activity, according to recent Bluefin Labs data. The highest single baseball playoff game this year as of press time, the Oct. 10 New York Yankees-Baltimore Orioles game featuring the two Ibanez home runs, generated 485,401 social media comments. The total trailed those for the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh and San Diego-New Orleans NFL games Oct. 7, and the Houston-New York Jets Monday night game Oct. 8, each of which surpassed 500,000 comments.

But with several walkoff victories during last week’s playoff games, always a powerful social media trigger, and overall fan interest quickly rising, MLB executives said they were pleased with their recent gains.

“Social media is one of those areas particularly benefiting from the building day-to-day drama of the postseason,” Parkes said.

NFL owners meet in Chicago on Tuesday, and perhaps what is most notable about the one-day meeting is what is not on the agenda: Los Angeles.

With all the talk in recent months about returning football to Los Angeles, there is no scheduled update, though the league could put it on the agenda at the last moment.

The for-sale sign on AEG, the company behind the downtown Los Angeles football stadium proposal, and word that teams that want to relocate to Los Angeles need to notify the league in the first six weeks of 2013, stirred talk that the issue might be returning to the forefront of the league’s priorities. The Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles after the 1994 season.

But an agenda that lists up to a dozen items does not include Los Angeles, sources said.

Issues that are on the agenda include a review of the replacement referees; an update on the bid process for the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls; discussion of the NFL’s London games; and approvals of team transactions, like the sale of the Cleveland Browns.

— Daniel Kaplan