The brand of baseball often conjures childhood memories, old-timey Ken Burns documentaries - and a tight grip on content and licensed property. But Major League Baseball's latest multimedia project is a bold, surprisingly open attempt to flaunt the sport's youthful and modern side.
Outside the MLB Fan Cave still under
construction the day before Opening Day
The MLB Fan Cave is an actual place as well as a virtual experience, set to go live today in time for Opening Day of the 2011 MLB season. It brings together a physical location in one of Manhattan's hippest neighborhoods, a web series, and a season's worth of content fodder for social media promotion.
When ClickZ visited the Fan Cave at the corner of 4th street and Broadway yesterday afternoon, the three-story facility was still under construction, the "tweets to the street" LED ticker yet to be installed, and the giant QR codes linking to MLBFanCave.com pages still not displayed in windows.
Integration of sponsor brands is evident throughout the Fan Cave - including a Pepsi Porch and a Budweiser Game Room featuring a baseball-themed billiards table. But just how those sponsorships will translate to digital environments is up in the air, according to Jeff Heckelman, MLB's manager of business PR.
A Work in Progress
Men at work inside the MLB Fan Cave
Today, and for the remainder of the regular and playoff season, a baseball fan named Mike O'Hara will be holed up in the fan cave, glued to every game played by all 30 MLB clubs via several HD TVs, from the first pitch of the early afternoon games on the East Coast through the last out of West Coast matchups. O'Hara, a New York Yankees fan, will be joined by a sidekick, Ryan Wagner, a fan of the Baltimore Orioles as they are watched by passersby from outside large windows surrounding the Fan Cave; the two were chosen from a roster of around 10,000 contestants. Though MLB tries to keep most marketing efforts well balanced between American and National Leagues, the talents of the cavemen overrode the fact that both are fans of AL East teams, according to Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer at MLB.
They'll be interacting with fans across media via platforms like Apple FaceTime, MLB's own television network, an MLB.com blog, and yes, Facebook and Twitter. The two guys were chosen more for their charisma on screen than their social media prowess or online baseball commentary, though. In fact, Wagner posted to his @rwags614 Twitter account for the first time in March, and when ClickZ checked O'Hara's @mikeyoh21 account yesterday it had just a handful of tweets - all from that day.
"The reality is we wanted to kind of discover people that haven't been discovered prior," said Parkes. O'Hara and Wagner will star in a series of 3 to 5 minute web videos posted on a daily or near-daily basis, produced by Endemol USA, the firm behind reality shows like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Jerseylicious." In fact, Extreme Makeover's Paul DiMeo designed the 15,000 square foot Fan Cave. Bobby Maurer, a producer on the offbeat '90s late-night send-up "The Tom Green Show," will serve as executive producer of the series. Sketches could involve man-on-the-street interviews and chats with nearby Broadway knish vendors during non-game times.
An Experiment with Sharing
The mini-shows, presented in an embeddable player, will be available on the MLBFanCave.com site, distributed across the 30 team sites, and potentially by fans across the web. Expect to see them linked from the @MLBFanCave Twitter account, too. Distribution of Fan Cave content will be handled by MLB's tech, broadcasting, social media and PR departments and its digital arm MLB Advanced Media.
The goal is "distribution by our fans to their friends and their peers," said Parkes. "Our strategy is a strategy of sharing."
MLB is not an open, sharing organization compared to other pro sports leagues, keeping a tight lock on its broadcast content, team logos and player images. In an age of social media distribution, that may have to change. "We freely admit that this is a big departure for us," said Heckelman.
A modern take on a classic:
A local artist's rendition of the famous catch made by
Willie Mays in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series
It all started after MLB chose Hill Holliday as its marketing and advertising agency of record. The agency originated the idea for the tech-lush baseball-watching hub, and the project snowballed from there.
"The holy grail is to connect in a way that's meaningful, dynamic, and lasting... a connection you hope enables fans to consume and be a part of your brand-game experience," said Parkes. In addition to enticing people to post web videos or send tweets to O'Hara and Wagner, Parkes expects engagement will come by giving fans a chance to partake in "tweetoffs," contests, and votes.
Even so, the Fan Cave will be closed to the public most days, and open only during special events. Instead fans will be invited to interact with outdoor elements such as an interface for creating and posting photos featuring the World Series trophy.
Today the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers, and the Fan Cave is expecting a visit from Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander and centerfielder Austin Jackson. Later on, Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain is set to turn up at a party in the downstairs lounge area. Friday, gamers will visit the Fan Cave to compete in the MLB 2K 11 Perfect Game Challenge.
"From the top, the Commissioner [MLB Commissioner Bud Selig], to my boss Tim Brosnan [MLB executive VP of Business]...everyone is engaging in it," said Parkes. "Thirty clubs are engaging in it.... With that kind of support it's really going to position us well to have a better relationship with our fans."
Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.