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It’s baseball’s time, having just finished a great World Series with the biggest ratings jump this year (+40%) in history for the World Series.  So let me merge my branding brain and my baseball heart for this blog posting.

Don’t be fooled by the ratings jump; the brand of baseball is seriously challenged. Some indications:

  • Continued long-term downward trend in the ratings for the all-star game and the World Series.
  • Football is our national sport, while baseball is based on local team interest
    • A few weeks ago, on Sunday the NY Giants/Phoenix game and the 6th and final game of the ALCS (Yankees, Angels) went head to head and got equal national ratings.  Yet, in NY, the Yankees’ TV ratings blew away the Giants.
    • Ironically, while major league baseball’s appeal is local in the US, Japanese stars playing in the US major leagues give it national appeal in Japan.  People all around Japan took an extended lunch to watch Matsui have an unprecedented game and they would have done the same for Ichiro.  BTW, Chien-Ming Wang (until he got hurt) was the largest sports star in Taiwan.
    • The World Series TV ratings are about 4X higher in the home cities of the teams playing than elsewhere.  This is a typical pattern for baseball but not football.
    • The Yankees lift road attendance by 6,500 fans/game (20% or so percent increase for opposing clubs’ home attendance).  Except for the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs, no other team has any effect.  Football pretty much sells out no matter what.
    • The star quality of Baseball players has been eclipsed by basketball and other sports.
      • Forbes’ list of top 100 celebrities only has one baseball player—Derek Jeter at #66.  A number of basketball players are at the top of the list, and there are multiple tennis, racecar, and soccer stars, and, of course, Tiger Woods is Tiger (top rated).  Interestingly, I didn’t see any football stars.
      • Until the 70s, organized sports’ biggest stars seemed to come from baseball (and whoever was heavyweight boxing champion): Cobb, Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Mantle, Mays, Clemente
      • Among team sports, I think football owns “spectacle”
  1. Nothing seems to match the spectacle value of the Superbowl, Saturday college games, bowl games.
  2. Superbowl ratings are 4-5X the World Series and the only sports event showing consistent INCREASES in TV ratings despite the media long-tail fragmentation phenomenon.
  3. I think basketball is tops on cultural connection
    1. Basketball is the sports embodiment of urban culture. So many of our phrases come from urban culture and are part of  basketball these days.  Remember when baseball sayings dominated?
    2. Our culture is attracted to trash-talk and ultimate fighting.  In other sports we trash-talk, fight, do victory dances.  In baseball, we don’t steal second if we’re up by too many runs, warn both sides after a bean ball, never show up the pitcher on a home run or the hitter on a strikeout, we never trash talk. Baseball etiquette reflects days gone by.
    3. Baseball feels too slow to many in our ADD, multitasking culture (although, nothing is slower than golf and look at Tiger’s appeal). The World Series, our biggest stage, starts so late that it is losing the viewership of the nations’ young who have to go to school the next day.

Having said all of this, baseball has amazing assets on which to rebuild.  In the movie City Slickers, around the campfire one of the friends said, “When my father and I had nothing else to talk about, there was always baseball”  True dat.

As a passionate fan, here are some recommendations I freely offer built around five cornerstones:  make the game national and international (rather than only local), reignite the passion that fans have from childhood, make baseball permeate culture, make baseball contemporary and cool, play to the game as theatre.

  1. Baseball ties into childhood memories more than any other sport; reawaken those feelings and for God’s sake, start the World Series game earlier so kids can grow up with baseball!
  2. Reestablish a new cultural connection. Just like basketball has embraced African-American culture, Baseball has a high representation of Latino and Asian players and should embrace those cultures in a way that reflects the new America.
  3. Stop the spitting, it is really disgusting!
  4. Market your stars better and turn them into national role models (that’s part of why Jeter is number one).
  5. Enflame the passion that people feel for their team and create passion for their league so they have a rooting interest in the World Series and All-Star game.
  6. Join the digital age! Augmented reality, integrated stats ( and offer a lot), social media at the sport and team level, and instant replay.
  7. Create national and international relevance for baseball.  Ethnic pride, stars, integration into culture can transcend local rooting interest and are all big assets baseball has (but could do more with).
  8. There is poetry and beauty to baseball.  The baseball diamond is gorgeous.  There is no clock which makes for high drama.  In the 60s, fans used to be able to exit Yankee stadium on the field along the running track.  That was a religious experience so why not again, at least occasionally?

Please add your own thoughts about what baseball has to do to fulfill its billing as our national pastime.

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5 Responses to “Rebuilding a Great Brand Called Baseball”

  1. for sure baseball has fans like you and I guess that’s what counts the most no?

  2. Great post. I truly agree with your points. As a baseball fan I hated that the games started at 8PM or 8:20 and my son could only see 1 or 2 innings because it ran so late past his bed time. Even when I let him stay up he usually was asleep by 10:30PM and would wake up the next day to ask the what was the final score. I love your idea of Augmented reality and integrated stats. Why isn’t ESPN, FOX, or even YES doing this? Seems like a no brainer.

  3. Barry Feldman

    Article inspires some thoughts: Baseball has failed to exploit certain characteristics relative to other sports:
    1. Its relative affordability of games; still needs to improve access to lower/middle income groups
    2. Players not literally larger-than-life; they are “reality-size.”
    3. The long summertime absence of pro football and basketball.
    4. It’s players are more diverse than ever, despite lower participation by African-Americans (which needs to be re-cultivated).
    5. TV should not restrict play-by-play views to behind-the-pitcher only; but create a batter-based or field-box behind-the-batter view of the extended, unique playing field; maybe split-screen.
    6. Like baseball cards, the father-son thing we baby-boomers experienced is difficult to re-create in this era — but all of the above and maybe on-line cards, inter-sport and cross-market discounts, greater prevalence of baseballs in the marketplace, etc. could help.

  4. Joel Rubinson

    great comments, thanks. point about blacks is well-taken as the percentage of players who are black has actually gone down over the past 10-20 years.

  5. Barry Feldman

    ..continued..4.Its players are more diverse than ever,but need to regain Afric.-Amer. participation.
    5. TV shouldn’t restrict play-by-play to behind pitcher view, but create batter-based or field-box box behind-plate view of the extended, unique playing field; maybe split-screen.
    6.Like baseball cards,our father-son thing–hard to re-create this era; maybe on-line cards, cross mkt.tie-ins/discounts,more mktplace. baseballs..