The business of sports: The top five things the MLB can learn from the NFL
Baseball being “America’s favorite pastime” is long gone. Football is king and reigns supreme as America’s favorite sport. The 16 weeks of the regular season starting in September in addition to the post season all the way to the Super Bowl are some of the most popular and profitable weeks for teams, networks and companies. In 2011 the NFL made $3.3 billion in national ad support while the MLB only received $784 million —second to college football. The NFL seems to just “get it”, so what’s wrong with the MLB?
According to the Harris Poll, baseball is still the second most popular sport in America, but that may not last. College football is hot on it’s heals. According an article by CBSSports.com,
“…since Harris started tracking America’s favorite sports in 1985, college football has gained 1%, while baseball has gone down 7%.”
According to an article in Adage.com:
Among “avid” fans, college football was No. 2 at 24.2%, while MLB was third at 20.6% (the NFL was tops at 33.3%).
Can baseball ever be number one again? Maybe, but there are some things baseball can do–or do better. They should take a page from the NFL’s playbook taking note of the following:
1. Quality over Quantity: Baseball is a marathon not a sprint, and with the ever-shortening attention spans, fans are not engaged in the long season and the number of games, usually until closer to the post season. I think baseball should consider shortening it’s season, not by much–but it could be effective. Let’s not forget the quality of the NFL’s fantasy football. The ease and fun of the fantasy football has drawn in fans who would normally not watch the games. In fact, according to an article on ABC.com, participation among women has grown over 300%. The MLB’s fantasy league has too many games for any one fan to keep up with. Again, they should consider shortening the season.
2. Marketing: The MLB doesn’t seem to be as aggressive as the NFL or the NBA in terms of marketing. There is some hype around the season, but with the NBA and March Madness occurring during the start of the MLB season, baseball could be more aggressive so they don’t get lost or overshadowed by the latter. In addition, the NFL engages women far more than any other sport, capitalizing on its fans with the fastest and most powerful spending power in the consumer market. That’s not only good business, it’s smart business.
3. Social Media: Both the NFL and the NBA and now, even college games encourage social media interaction during the games and during game breaks. Fans can engage with other fans and with analysts so they are actually a part of the game. There are millions of people in the social media space and seeing an increase in trending topics surrounding a game will not only secure the current fan base, but it will draw those who might not otherwise watch the game. The MLB needs to check in with it’s fans so it can stop the bleeding. Adding a social media element will be a key in making that happen.
4. A Live Look Inside: Perhaps the greatest friend to the NFL, aside from fans, is NFL Films. Giving fans a sometimes live, up-close and personal look into the games only further engages the fan base and creates the ultimate fan experience. What about baseball? Where’s MLB films? How about a “dugout cam” or a camera on the pitcher’s hat? What about shots of the crowd–from the crowd perspective. All these interactions are critical in a game already noted as a marathon, not a sprint.
5. The Celebrity Factor: Today’s athletes are more like celebrities and capitalizing on this element has elevated the status and popularity of the NFL and NBA. There’s a certain amount of drama that fans like, and while some may argue this takes away from the true nature of the game, you can’t argue with the numbers. the NFL only continues to grow in popularity, so much so, that there are fans who will go to stadiums, tailgate and never go inside the game. Where are the loyal, dedicated baseball fans?
Baseball is not going away and while the MLB boasted revenues of $7.5 billion in 2012 and that attendance continues to increase, I’m not so sure fans are as engaged. Some ballparks didn’t sell out opening day and many more teams are struggling in ticket sales.
Like all sports, MLB is a business and any good business knows that to stay successful and profitable you have to be forward thinking. My advice to the MLB would be to meet the fans where they are, anticipate their needs and stay ahead of the curve.
Your Jersey Girlfriend,