After the lowest-viewed World Series in history, Major League Baseball is hoping to attract a younger generation of viewers by energizing its presence on TikTok. Scotts has signed on as the first brand to activate on MLB's TikTok channel. The league also just launched ‘Game Stories’ via Google. So what’s the story behind the league’s new social media play? MLB marketing exec Barbara McHugh explains.
For Major League Baseball fans, opening day on Thursday (April 1) can’t come soon enough. However, the number of people within that eager audience — whose members are 57 years old, on average — has been steadily shrinking. Despite a small increase in viewership when play resumed last year, interest in the World Series sank to record lows.
To attract more Gen Z fans to ’America’s favorite pastime,’ MLB and its advertisers are stepping up to the plate with an array of social media content aimed at TikTok and Google users.
Scotts, a leader in lawn care products, is the league’s first partner to activate on MLB’s TikTok channel. It is currently running a sweepstakes encouraging fans to share how they’re celebrating "Opening week in the yard" for a chance to win one of 30 game used bases from Opening Day. It plays upon a popular TikTok trend #TellMeWithoutTellingMe and features Atlanta Braves star Freddie Freeman and his father and son.
The TikTok example demonstrates how MLB — and its advertisers by extension — are meeting the Gen Z audience where they are. The goal is to showcase a star player, but not simply as a celebrated athlete. MLB and Scotts are showing a different side to Freeman as he appears with his family. It’s a bid to create an emotional connection with the viewer that encourages deeper engagement.
For Scotts, the video evokes the green grasses of every MLB ballpark. “We know that Scotts wants to reach a young audience,” says Barbara McHugh, MLB senior vice president of marketing. “In that sense, it’s an organic opportunity to partner with us through the lens of baseball.”
The major league debut of ‘Game Stories’ on Google
This season, the MLB has also launched ‘Game Stories’ via Google. It’s a new video-based storytelling platform similar to Instagram stories that can be accessed directly through Google search.
Game Stories also allows partners to utilize short-form creative. MLB typically aligns a partner with a relevant piece of content that makes the most sense based on its product or service.
A number of different partners have signed up, including T- Mobile, Geico, Bank of America, Chevrolet, The Hartford and Mastercard. Each receives brand attribution throughout the stories by way of branding and short-form video.
“Connecting with our partners — in terms of bringing that experience and that emotion and connecting in those authentic ways — is what they tend to get really excited about,” says McHugh.
Dedicated in-stadium Gen Z content capturers
Capturing content is a big part of its Gen Z-focused efforts. The league has a staff member in each of its 30 ballparks whose sole purpose is to photograph and take live video of different camera angles and viewpoints not captured on broadcast television.
The goal is to capture the raw emotion of what’s happening during game play. It’s the out that gets called and the reaction from the pitcher. The glory of the home run. A bottom-of-the-ninth scenario.
“We’ve seen some great success in terms of the engagement numbers of when that content is pushed out on our social platforms as well as the clubs or the players that utilize it,” says McHugh, adding that on Twitter and Instagram, MLB tends to see a double-digit increase in engagement as compared to normal highlights.
MLB also features more personal content, spotlighting players in their street clothes before they hit the field to show their personalities and give fans a closer look at who they are as people.
McHugh emphasized player marketing as a means to build a connection among younger demographics. "We know that as much as people like to follow brands and teams or us as a league, it’s really the athletes that are the most interesting,” she says.
That’s why MLB is ramping up its player social program, which gained significant momentum in 2020. The league partners with its players — over 1,000 at present, including Minor League Baseball — and provides them with assets, photos, graphics and other original content to push out across their own social platforms.
With the in-the-flesh ballpark experience still off limits, it’s the content that is driving memorable moments for fans to keep and share.