MLB Looks Beyond Baseball to Reel in New Audiences Online

When Justin Bieber retweeted a post from Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, the pop star helped put Major League Baseball’s new digital media initiative in play. Some baseball fans know Guthrie, but it’s safe to say before the singer’s retweet, Bieber fans had never heard of him.

The unlikely pairing of big league baseball and teenybopper pop is indicative of what MLB aims to achieve through the MLB Fan Cave project. That is, introduce baseball and its cast of on-field characters to new audiences.

“We’re targeting various communities of interest, making baseball seem compelling to them,” said Tyler Hissey, content strategist at Hill Holliday, an agency working closely with MLB to develop Fan Cave content and help distribute it to relevant places online.

In the case of Guthrie, the inhabitants of the Fan Cave – a Manhattan video studio and production facility masquerading as a baseball lover’s hangout – staged a mock “intervention” to help Guthrie overcome his struggles with pop music addiction. The result was one of around 75 videos produced for the Fan Cave project in the past month since the MLB season started.

“Even after my @justinbieber intervention at the @MLBFanCave I remain a loyal #BELIEBER! See video:” wrote Guthrie on Twitter.

MLB wants to “dimensionalize the players” by illuminating their personalities in the hopes of sparking an interest in the game they play, explained Hissey. In conjunction with MLB’s PR team, Hill Holliday identifies key influencers online who might want to share the videos and other content with their own audiences. Fan Cave videos have been picked up by bigger sites such as, as well as team-specific blogs and local TV sites.

“Shareabilty is a big goal,” said Hissey, noting that when Bieber tweeted to Guthrie about the intervention, it “led to a significant spike in traffic for that video.” Hissey works part time at the Fan Cave, where an upstairs office space is set up for writing and production, and spends the rest of his time at Hill Holliday’s Boston office.

The MLB Fan Cave, located at the corner of Broadway and 4th street in New York City, was designed to entice baseball players from across the league to hang out, shoot some pool, watch a ball game on the wall of high-definition TVs known as the “Cave Monster,” or even chill late nights in the downstairs lounge. A goal is to get players who are in town for games against The New York Mets or New York Yankees to take part in an ongoing collection of video shorts intended for sharing across the web, and to fuel Twitter and blog posts by the MLB Fan Cavemen.

So far, fans of American League East teams tend to be the most engaged with the MLBFanCave on Twitter and other Cave content, said Ryan Wagner, one of two baseball enthusiasts chosen to hang out in the Fan Cave this season. That could be the case, he suggested, because AL East teams including the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, two of the most popular baseball franchises, simply have more fans. It doesn’t hurt that Wagner roots for the Orioles, an AL East team, and Fan Cave counterpart Mike O’Hara is a Yankees fan.

When ClickZ News last visited the Fan Cave in late April, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young were there, filming a video involving a series of gaming battles. The folks working on video content – including Hill Holliday and production firm Endemol USA – determined that Upton and Young were friends and very competitive, making for a fun video hook. The air hockey and shuffleboard tables were already there at the Fan Cave, but a Connect Four game was a special purchase just for the competition.

While the Fan Cave initiative itself is well-planned, the video shoots and other social media interactions leave lots of room for evolution. Indeed, project coordinators recently decided to incorporate themes such as food and music – good topics for showcasing players’ non-baseball sides – into upcoming content.

During last month’s food-themed week, the owner of Michelbob’s Championship Ribs, a fan favorite at Minnesota Twins ballpark Target Field, along with several food trucks stopped by the Fan Cave. For the Michelbob’s visit, MLB invited Twins fans to stop by and sample the barbecue.

In the long run, MLB would like to have content such as the food-related video picked up by relevant media outlets. Themes such as food and music, suggested Hissey, “definitely lend themselves to being done more than once.”

“We don’t have a defined [demographic] we’re going after,” said Hissey, adding that MLB wants to connect with “people with various interests and if we can bridge those communities to the Major League Baseball brand then it will be a success.” See ClickZ’s video interview featuring Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton discussing athletes on Twitter:

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