Can Major League Tech Overcome Apathetic Fans?

I noticed something yesterday that got me thinking about the role tech plays in rejuvenating “old” products.  In this case, the product is baseball.  If you’re over the age of 50, baseball was probably the first sport you came to love and follow because when my peers and I were kids it truly was the American past-time.  College football and the NFL were a distant second; the NBA was barely surviving, and soccer was something they did in Europe.

The Harris Interactive folks have been running a poll for many years which tracks which sport fans label as “their favorite.”  As you can see in this document, baseball has been falling for most of the almost 30 years they’ve been measuring this.  In 1985, baseball was about even with pro football when fans answered the question “If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?”  By 2011, those responding “pro football” were 2.5x greater than those responding “baseball.”   One might expect that baseball’s audience would be older – there’s plenty of research to support that – and this poll identified the 50-64 segment as the one with the most avidity for the game.

The modern MLB logo was first used in 1969.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s why, when I read this piece yesterday, I had a thought.  Another research company, Scarborough, found about the same percentage of “avid” baseball fans as did the Harris study.  However, it also found a lot of strength for the game among Gen Y fans.  Generation Y are the “echo boomers,” the children of boomers like me.  In fact:

54% of Gen Y MLB Fans more likely than all MLB Fans to have used a mobile device to read a newspaper in the past 30 days, 84% more likely to have listened to internet radio in the past 30 days and 22% more likely than all MLB Fans to typically watch reality TV. Gen Y MLB Fans are more than twice as likely as all MLB Fans to have visited Twitter in the past 30 days, 59% more likely to have read or contributed to a blog in the past 30 days and 68% more likely to have watched video clips online in the same time period. Gen Y MLB Fans are 131% more likely than all MLB Fans to have visited Hulu.com in the past 30 days and 65% more likely to have visited YouTube.com in the same time frame.

So this is my thought.  The game isn’t any faster nor has there been a breakthrough in game presentation that is stirring interest.  What is going on here in my mind has to do with the thing that MLB does better than any other sports league ( and I say that as someone who was once responsible for this at a major sports league):  digital media and technology.  Baseball’s tech arm, MLBAM, is widely recognized as the leader over the last decade.  Their commitment to make their games available on all devices was revolutionary at the time and their “At Bat” product is terrific.  I think this is what’s driving the reemergence of the sport among younger people.  It’s accessible, it’s presented in a manner they understand, and it’s everywhere they are.

Could it be that new technology is making our oldest professional sport new again?  What do you think?  How can it do the same for other “old” businesses?

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Filed under digital media, sports business, Thinking Aloud

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