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How Major League Baseball and Imagination hit a home run with MLB London Yards

Imagination won ‘New Event of the Year’ at The Drum Experience Awards 2019 with its MLB London Yards event. Here, the agency reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

In 2019, Major League Baseball made history by playing their first ever regular season games in Europe. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees faced off at London Stadium in Stratford. Demand for tickets was huge, and the games sold out instantly. However, MLB knew that the true value of London Series was reaching out beyond those avid baseball fans in the stadium.

Increasing the popularity of the sport among younger fans, along with growing the game globally, are important objectives for the league. Launching in a new market meant MLB could communicate in new ways and speak to a new generation of baseball fans.

Our brief was to create a London Series fan festival that engaged a new, millennial audience.

The strategy

The audience we were looking to engage with were ‘New Gen Fans’, a broad but incredibly valuable target group for MLB in Europe. They are 18-34, 51% female and have a high interest in sports, but are not currently followers of baseball. They represent the future fans of the league, but in all likelihood would not be attending the games at the stadium.

To engage with this group, we had to create an experience that was authentic to baseball but also appealed to the cultural passion points of our audience. Our insight was that what makes baseball so unique is what happens in addition to the action on the field - ‘beyond the ballpark’. Teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees have such strong historic and cultural ties to their cities that they represent them on a global stage. The London Series gave us the opportunity to present not just the best of baseball, but also the best of Boston and New York culture to a millennial audience in London.

Our approach to reaching this audience was to consider both the ‘depth’ and ‘reach’ of the festival, ensuring that visitors had a deep and meaningful experience in person, while also creating content that could be broadcast out to a much wider audience online.

The campaign

London Yards was a three-day festival of all things baseball that ran from the 28-30 June 2019 at the Truman Brewery. With the London Series being held at London Stadium in Stratford, the location for the fan festival was a strategic decision. We wanted the venue to be closer to central London with high footfall and an area our target audience frequents. The physical design of the space itself utilised two interconnected venues within the Truman Brewery: U Block and Brick Lane Yard.

From a creative perspective, we used the fierce rivalry between the two London Series teams as inspiration, having Boston and New York face off across the space in terms of environment, branding and programming.

U Block contained our hero baseball experience: the world's first indoor Home Run Derby. Players had 12 attempts to hit as many home runs as possible for the Red Sox or Yankees. MLB ball tracking technology accurately predicted the distance travelled, with the results displayed on an LED screen, with bespoke graphics and a soundscape that celebrated success and mocked failure.

The Home Run Derby was an exhilarating and premium experience. We wanted to make sure there were as many opportunities as possible for visitors to play different formats of baseball at the festival. In U Block, there were 4 VR batting cages, allowing for a much higher throughput. Players put on an HTC Vive headset that transported them to the home stadiums. Depending on which team they were batting for, their cage would light up red or blue when they hit home runs in the game.

Out in Brick Lane Yard there were more baseball activations. Spin Cycle was a playful take on a fairground game, where competitors threw baseballs at washing machines, with the speed of their pitches recorded. Moonshot was inspired by 50s baseball star Wally Moon and challenged visitors to hit a target in the left corner of the cage. Both of these games were analogue in nature, allowing for higher throughput, and inspired by the historic nature of the sport.

The Yard was also where live screenings of the London Series were hosted. With tickets to the stadium in high demand, we wanted to make London Yards the best place to watch the games if you couldn’t make it to the stadium. We built a huge screen, flanked by the club’s logos and a lighting rig. During the Saturday game, over 1400 people watched on, with a whole crowd sing-a-long to Sweet Caroline a highlight.

The stage that we built for the live screenings was transformed into a platform for live music on the Friday night, giving London Yards a true festival feel. We collaborated with local street food vendors to create brand new menu items that were a unique London take on classic ballpark fare. They served up dishes inspired by the culinary heritage of Boston, New York and stadium snacks. We also worked with Battersea brewery Mondo on a one-off London Series brew only available over the weekend at the festival and the stadium.

The results

13,115 visitors attended over the three days 46% were aged 18-34 42% were casual fans of the sport 90% would recommend the event to a friend -12.3M reach on social media - 550k engagements -MLB Network live broadcast from London Yards viewed 1.3m times on Twitter.

“London Yards was a perfect distillation of everything we are trying to make MLB stand for. The look and feel, content programming, and partner integration has set a new standard for our events domestically and internationally. Imagination have become an integral part of the MLB international mission. We couldn’t wish for more thoughtful, creative, and inspiring partners.” - Charlie Hill, vice president international strategy at Major League Baseball.

This project was a winner at The Drum Experience Awards 2019. Click here to register your interest in 2020’s event.

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