What MLB’s Top Strategy Officer Learned About Fan Engagement During a Fan-less Season


During Major League Baseball’s abbreviated, fan-less season, cardboard cutouts took center stage.

Numerous teams used the simple way to fill the seats as a vehicle to raise money for charity. For instance, the Philadelphia Phillies donated $320,000 after over 10,000 fans purchased cardboard cuts of themselves, friends, family and even their pets to give Citizens Bank Ballpark a static crowd. In addition, many organizations gave away tickets and home run balls when a batter drilled one with a homer.

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The initiative, embraced by nearly every MLB team, was one way to bring fans to the ballpark in a season where they couldn’t experience the live crack of the bat.

But the majority of MLB’s focus this season was to bring the game to the fans in the safety and comfort of their homes. Ahead of the World Series, which begins tonight, Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief strategy and operations officer shared with nitronet what the league learned from this unorthodox season, including that it had to nail the fundamentals—recreating the in-stadium experience and building a virtual community for fans.

“What we’re going to emphasize for next year is continued growth of new products and features on digital platforms to allow our fans to create a sense of community,” Marinak said, pointing to how young generations interact with baseball in digital-first ways that its core group of fans from older generations typically don’t.

That insight is driving MLB’s biggest foray into technology for the World Series. The league partnered with Snap to integrate its AR platform into the MLB Ballpark app. It allows fans to use eight different augmented reality lenses to bring the World Series to them, putting themselves in the ballpark for images and videos that can be shared on social media.

Chasing younger audiences has taken different forms across the sports leagues, but TikTok and Snap have often been at the center of those efforts. In the case of the NFL, the league put kids in the spotlight during its biggest event—the Super Bowl—with an ad that ran during the game. For the World Series, MLB is also activating on Twitter, as some batting practice balls will contain tweets from fans. The league also partnered with Animal Crossing, Nintendo’s hit video game that’s popular with Gen Z.

“What we learned about younger generation of consumers is that they already have platforms that they want to be on. And they are used to engaging on those platforms,” Marinak said, explaining that it’s essential for MLB as content providers to create ways for fans to engage with the league’s content on platforms that fans want to engage on.

MLB strived to a create a digital community for fans through several initiatives, according to Marinak. The Cheer at the Ballpark is a league-wide experience that allowed fans to influence the atmosphere at the stadium using their phones. It generated over 71 million interactions in the two-month long regular season. Its new film room allows fans to create custom highlight reels that can be shared anywhere. And finally, the Rally game lets fans predict what will happen next in games and compete for cash prizes in the process.

Marinak views the demographics of its engagement as the most important metric to judge whether the league’s activations are successful this postseason, with the hopes that that younger generations—mainly fans in the 16- to 25-year-old range—over-index when it reviews the content created through the Snap partnership.

The Fans. The Brands. Social Good. The Future of Sports. Don’t miss the upcoming Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience on Nov. 16-19. Early-bird passes available until Oct. 26. Register now. 

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