Another year and the sports cycle continues: March Madness ends, talk of Augusta creeps in, and baseball comes back. But this year, there’s a palpable excitement in the air that’s drawing more eyes to America’s sport.
With the World Baseball Classic breaking viewership records, new rules speeding up the game, and the MLB coming off a revenue record-setting year, baseball is primed for a huge 2023. It's an exciting time for the sports world, with advanced analytics driving competitive growth in NBA marketing, NFL marketing, and MLS marketing. In response, MLB and its teams are leaning into the energy, doubling down on partnerships and advertising, and showcasing key best practices for effective ad strategy.
MLB’s first season with Wieden+Kennedy as their agency of record supports the benefits of channel diversity in driving campaign success.
Kicking off their partnership, the league announced their new campaign “Baseball is Something Else” a day before the 2023 season. Spanning print, digital, out of home, television and more, the campaign emphasizes the feeling of baseball, beyond the competition or the sport itself, playing into its connection with food, culture and entertainment.
On the morning of the announcement, digital ads could be found in placements from Times Square billboards to TrueView InStream on YouTube. As far as the creative itself, they’ve covered the bases with short films centering around the culture of the game, vignettes featuring all-star players explaining the new rules, and celebrity endorsements from baseball-loving fans Bryan Cranston and Sebastian Maniscalco.
What can we learn from this?
The Power of Creative: While the general perception around advertising considers targeting and brand to be the largest contributors to sales lift, creative is far and away the top contributor to a campaign’s ROI.
The MLB’s 2023 campaign leans into creative using three different content pieces to give their pitch. With each coexisting under the unifying theme of baseball’s universal appeal, they can impact numerous placements without threat of ad fatigue and connect their message across wider audiences.
The Power of Channel Diversity: Running ads across multiple channels not only offers more of an opportunity to drive action from the audience, but also reinforces brand recall and recognition. While traditional OOH buys lack direct sales attribution, users are more likely to recall a brand from static and digital OOH over all other paid media channels.
For a brand like the MLB - competing for attention from other sports, entertainment and hobbies - showcasing their creative across platforms and devices maximizes impact of the messaging when excitement for the game is peaking.
The Power of Celebrity: When the opportunity arrives, a testimonial or endorsement from a person of influence can engage their following and drive consideration amongst new potential consumers. Beyond key celebrity endorsements like a Bryan Cranston, influencer marketplaces across platforms like TikTok or third-party platforms like Billo offer the opportunity to connect with content creators to expand the reach of the messaging.
Baseball’s commitment to marketing extends to each of the major clubs, leaning into localization to drive action.
Beyond the efforts made by the wider league, individual teams are each making their case for ticket sales and renewed interest in the team.
The San Francisco Giants launched their own 60-sec content piece for the season, speaking to the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the game that only a true SF fan could understand. The ad isn’t praising its stars, but instead showcases a reason for any kind of fan to come out to a game, including the beer, food and even jaw-lines that might draw someone to the ballpark. For an endorsement, they use local rapper Iamsu to connect with the community. In one minute, the Giants highlight a full-sensory experience to support their call to action.
What can we learn from this?
The Power of Localized Messaging: By speaking authentically to an intended audience, brands can establish a deeper level of trust with their consumers. A “beer from Murph’s” isn’t going to connect with everyone, but it will resonate 2X stronger with someone who gets it. Beyond a flashy 60s video, this can be accomplished within the messaging of any social ad.
The Power of Counterarguments: In any debate, acknowledging the opposing side strengthens your argument. The same can be applied to ad messaging. By answering previous complaints, responding to doubts or playing devil’s advocate, brands can improve their pitch and instill confidence in their audience.
For the Giants, the common trope of “baseball is boring” isn’t only disputed, but taken as an opportunity to showcase every element of the experience that makes the game so powerful for any type of fan. In 2023, we can’t help but agree.
The MLB’s third year of Nike’s City Connect uniforms highlights how product differentiation can bring success to a legacy brand.
According to MLB chief revenue officer, Noah Garden, the “Nike MLB City Connect Series has been the most successful consumer product initiative we’ve ever had” since launching in 2021. The jerseys go beyond tradition and lean into each city’s “personality, values and customs that make each community and their residents unique”. Even a drastic change like the Red Sox’ yellow City uniforms has been welcomed by fans and will be used for a third consecutive season. Despite the color shake-up from the team’s traditional blue and red, the uniform’s connection to the Boston Marathon has driven resounding positive sentiment since being introduced.
What can we learn from this?
The Power of Change: Even legacy brands can innovate with the times effectively. Without changing the league’s logo or branding, the Nike City Connect collaboration has brought new interest in team uniforms, a fresh look to excite new fans, and introduced an annual product drop unveiling the next crop of teams.
The Paradox of Choice: While the desire for product differentiation may encourage marketers to test many variations and see what sticks, having too many options increases a consumer’s effort to make a decision and hurts conversion performance.
In the case of the MLB, they’ve limited the number of uniforms to four for the 2023 season - home, road, alternate, and City Connect - cutting down on the number of choices for consumers to showcase their fandom.
The Power of Storytelling: Storytelling can bring more to a brand than just a new paint job. For the Boston Red Sox, a legacy sports team with a prideful fanbase, introducing a new color after 100 years as a club could have been disastrous. However, with a proper storyline connecting the team with the city’s history, yellow and blue are now staples of crowds at Fenway Park.
For an organization founded the same year the lightbulb was introduced, Major League Baseball has never felt younger heading into the 2023 season. With energized teams packing stadiums and league advertising leading from the front, the stage is set for another record-setting year. As marketers, we’ll be tuning in. Play ball.