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Volume 21 No. 22
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With first brand effort across 160 clubs, MiLB focuses on fans

For years, Minor League Baseball’s affiliated clubs operated like the early United States under the Articles of Confederation — almost entirely independent of one another with little support from a central administrative entity.

With a new overarching marketing effort, however, the 160 clubs will brand together as one under the tagline “It’s fun to be a fan.” Call it a “We The People” moment.

“The clubs that we’ve talked to and kind of focus-grouped this concept with are very, very excited because they know now that it’s not just themselves in their local market,” said Kurt Hunzeker, MiLB vice president of marketing strategy and research. “They’re going to get support at the league level like all the other franchises in professional sports have.”

The effort to create a national commercial identity for Minor League Baseball began in 2012, when President Pat O’Conner announced Project Brand. His vision was to leverage MiLB’s national scale — 75 percent of Americans live in an MiLB market, and annual attendance among North American leagues is second only to Major League Baseball — for the benefit of each individual club.

MiLB Enterprises, the division formed in 2014 and tasked with carrying out O’Conner’s vision, focused first on signing national commercial partnerships. With nine national brands on board, a new CMO in former MLS marketer David Wright and an Enterprises staff that will have grown from four to almost 20 by Opening Day, Hunzeker said the time is right to focus on increasing fan support.

Digital platforms and social media will feature the campaign’s creative elements.
The goal is to grow annual attendance from 42 million last season to 50 million by 2026, or 2 percent annually, which Wright considers an ambitious rate of increase.

Enter the “It’s fun to be a fan” campaign. Based on an old licensing slogan dating to the early 1960s, the tagline is meant to highlight all the things other than baseball that fans enjoy during a day at the ballpark.

“Baseball is not a top-four reason why people come to the games,” Hunzeker said. “It’s the fun in the concourses, the crazy food, just the ability to hang out with friends and family and go to the ballgame.”

The campaign began last week with a digital rollout of the slogan and accompanying logo, which highlights family, fandom, food, fun moments and fireworks as core tenets of the MiLB experience. That digital effort will intensify over the course of the season.

MiLB will dispatch Tampa-based Diamond View Studios to ballparks across the country over the first few weeks of the season to shoot video of fans enjoying a day at the ballpark and interviewing them about why they find it “fun to be a fan.” This will serve as the basis for creative on digital platforms and social media, as well as for in-school programs, traditional media and for use by sponsors. Hunzeker said his group plans to identify additional opportunities to reach families with this content.

Beginning in 2018, the logo and other campaign assets will be tailored for use in marketing by individual clubs, either to complement what they are doing in terms of season-specific marketing themes or to fill that void. Hunzeker said more than 100 clubs don’t currently engage in this type of push.

MiLB also plans to integrate a new fan rewards program into its flagship First Pitch app in conjunction with MLBAM and new technology partner FIS. The goal is to give fans incentive to engage with their favorite teams on social media, bring friends to games and travel to other MiLB ballparks. Rewards will include discounts and freebies, as well as “money-can’t-buy experiences” like taking batting practice before a game or having a mascot visit a child’s school.

Hunzeker said a beta test of the rewards program will occur in select markets — at least one team per classification in Classes AAA, AA and A, Class A Advanced and Short-Season A/Rookie — in the latter half of the 2017 season with a full rollout scheduled for the start of the 2018 season.

In addition to marketing, MiLB is eyeing several other areas for centralization. Wright noted the league is in discussions with several ticketing companies about a primary ticketing partnership. He said there are currently seven different companies in use by the 160 clubs, a number he is aiming to reduce.

The Enterprises group is also focused on bolstering its club services efforts, with an emphasis on providing teams with data and analytics about fans to which many don’t currently have access.

Alex Silverman is a staff writer with sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.