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Volume 21 No. 22
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For MLB, a murderers’ row of playoff teams

The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers, leaders on social media and in licensed merchandise sales, have locked up postseason berths.
Major League Baseball has arguably its greatest collection of brand names for the playoffs in league history.

This year’s postseason for the first time ever features the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, defending champion Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers all at the same time. The quartet holds the largest collective followings among MLB teams on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and are annual mainstays among the top of opinion polls and merchandise sales rankings measuring the most popular baseball teams.

That pooling of franchise star power, along with the presence of defending American League champion Cleveland, big-market powers Washington and Houston, and upstarts Arizona and Minnesota, has league executives and business partners optimistic for another successful October.

On an individual level, the postseason will feature many of the sport’s most popular stars, including Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

“There’s not only parity across the field, but parity involving some really great teams,” said Chris Park, MLB executive vice president of global marketing and partnerships. “There are obviously some of our signature franchises involved, but also some of our most compelling stories from the regular season. Those are all really great materials to take into our postseason.”

Even coming close to matching the drama of last year’s postseason, in which the Cubs broke a 108-year championship drought with an extra-inning win in Game 7 of the World Series, is an all-but-impossible task for MLB and its broadcast and corporate partners. The Cubs’ historic run generated baseball’s largest television audiences in more than a generation, likely assuring this year will produce year-over-year ratings drops even if there is still audience growth over longer-term norms for the sport. Likewise, the Cubs set records for merchandise sales that will be tough to beat.

Network executives said they are well aware of the difficult comparisons from 2016 to 2017, and will instead actively market the widespread openness of this year’s MLB playoff field.

“All of these teams have at least a puncher’s chance of winning the whole thing,” said Scooter Vertino, senior vice president of programming for Turner Sports, which will carry the National League playoffs this year. “Last year, given the Cubs’ drought and all that history, obviously captured a certain energy. But we have a slew of big markets and storylines this year, and are still preparing this year from a sense of excitement.”

Turner Sports said it has surpassed its MLB playoff ad revenue from last year, in part because MLB’s annual network rotation for postseason game inventory this year gives Turner the NL playoffs and the fan interest around the Cubs while Fox holds the bulk of the AL playoffs. ESPN will carry the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, while Turner has the NL Wild Card game on Wednesday. MLB Network will carry part of the AL Division Series along with Fox, which will show the World Series for the 18th straight season.

Promotion of the MLB playoffs will cover an array of marketing activations. MLB recently debuted a new video touting the postseason featuring “Go Off,” also from “The Fate of the Furious” soundtrack, while Turner Sports has its own postseason spot featuring the veteran rock band Foo Fighters. ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” will feature an appearance by Fox’s Alex Rodriguez, while “Late Night With Seth Meyers” on NBC will have Kevin Millar and Sean Casey from MLB Network, and Turner’s Ron Darling and ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza are making other national broadcast appearances.

Digital and social media will play a substantial role with MLB striking a new partnership with Turner-owned Bleacher Report to develop an animated video series titled “Tall Tales” that is creating clips based around players such as Judge and Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Snapchat will create multiple filters for the postseason, and will be collecting content from participating teams for its “Our Story” aggregated accounts of major events.