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Volume 21 No. 48
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Study: MLB’s brand story from both sides of the plate

“MLB is the safest place for sponsors,” says Scout Managing Partner Michael Neuman, even as its fan base gets older.
Photo: getty images

Major League Baseball’s nostalgic brand equity is both its strength and a cause for concern, according to a new study from Horizon Media. The survey of 1,971 people identifying themselves as sports fans was conducted in late 2017.


It’s a half-full/half-empty scenario. The study notes that more than 80 percent of the “sports-engaged” (U.S.) population identifies as MLB fans, “giving sponsors a sizable platform.” However, “older generations are more connected to the sport and MLB is lagging in shepherding younger generations into the fold. This raises potential concerns for the longevity of the league.”

To support that claim, the study shows that MLB had easily the highest response, at 32 percent, when asked if baseball is “for people older than me,” followed by the NHL (27), NBA (25) and NFL (24).

In sub-groups of fans 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64, only in the oldest group did a majority (55 percent) agree that baseball is a game of “my generation.” Not surprisingly, 37 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds believe baseball “is for people older than themselves.” It’s also worth noting that among 18- to 24-year-olds, the NFL counts 62 percent as avid fans, versus the NBA’s 56 percent, and MLB’s 42 percent. MLB scored higher than its rival leagues when respondents were asked if it’s “inspiring” (59 percent, see chart). However, it’s also got the top score in being “slow” (48).

MLB’s sponsor environment scores were impressive though. MLB placed first or second against the other largest stick-and-ball leagues in “great place for sponsors to promote their brands” (61 percent); “respect brands that sponsor [this] sport” (51); “advertising and sponsoring [this] sport is a great way to get my attention” (45); “I’m more likely to recommend brands that sponsor [this] sport” (40); and “I’m more likely to be loyal to brands that sponsor [this] sport” (38).

Horizon Media’s Scout Sports & Entertainment represents MLB sponsor Geico.

“What’s most meaningful is that MLB is the safest place for sponsors,” said Scout Managing Partner Michael Neuman. “There is an inherent responsibility for them to build a story around passing the game down generationally.”

While MLB’s pace-of-play initiatives were adopted in an attempt to keep and attract younger fans, the study notes “concerns of over-commercialization and pace of game are starting to show some wear and tear within the core … Could MLB be [like the] … NFL in being perceived to be more about the business of the sports and less about the game?” Qualitative results from social listening, the study notes, show “those who are really talking about it [rule changes to speed up baseball] … don’t see how the game can really change — it’s 9 innings, 3 outs per inning.” Fans on social media also said pace-of-play rules are “a futile attempt to attract a younger fan base.”

Overall, study respondents said MLB was less commercial than some other leagues. More than half of respondents (52 percent) said the NFL “feels too commercialized,” followed by the NBA (39), MLB (36) and the NHL (29).

Still, the study notes that MLB “is an attractive and potentially lucrative opportunity for sponsors … Fans don’t want the game to change, they need to find ways to better integrate it into their everyday. … Whether that be through new ways to participate, innovative ways to access/engage, production quality or through reaffirming fans’ deep personal and social connection with the sport, it is essential that MLB (and potentially even sponsors) help them.”

As far as strategy, the study suggests that MLB be the common ground between red- and blue-staters. At a time when America is more polarized than it has been in decades, the study suggests, “We see even a bigger opportunity for MLB to play a significant role within the sports landscape and culture overall. It’s no secret that the country is divided. And in times of disharmony, people look for ways to connect. … With its broad fan base, feel-goodness and all-American foundation, baseball may be the only sport that can authentically rise to the occasion and provide this sense of unity.”

On the whole, nostalgia can help baseball. “Creative should focus on powerful trans-generational nostalgia associated with the sports, so to tug at the heart strings of fans,” the study suggested.

“Younger fans are connected to the NFL through fantasy play and that isn’t true with MLB,” Neuman said. “But nostalgia can also insulate and help connect the MLB more than the other leagues.”