The 2013 MLB season opened this week. And with it came the
2013 version of the MLB Fan Cave, located in New York and operating under the auspices
of MLB Advanced Media.
This year, inhabitants representing nine MLB teams will get
to watch every single regular season game-2,430 in all-on a bank of Sony HDTV's,
while also communicating via social media with fans and interacting in person
with celebrities, musicians and athletes, who will add to the total of more
than 400 special guests who have been to the Fan Cave since it opened in 2011.
They will get to live, eat, drink and sleep baseball all season long.
New this year is Mission Control, a giant panel that has 30
Android tablet screens (designed and overseen by self-described
physical-digital interactive firm Breakfast based in New York), or one in
each MLB ballpark. The screens monitor in-stadium action, social media hits and
weather conditions. Meters on the big board will record on-going totals in
categories such as home runs and strikeouts. A center-screen fan-cam will enable
people in the Fan Cave to converse with fans in each stadium.
Upcoming events include support for the release on April 12
of 42, the biopic about Jackie Robinson; special events for Jackie
Robinson Day on April 15; and activation around the All-Star Game in July,
which this year will be played in New York at Citi Field, home of the Mets. MLB
also anticipates that baseball-themed commercials will again be shot there.
More than 50 companies have products or services in the Fan
Cave, including such MLB partners as Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser),
T-Mobile, Sony, New Era and Scotts.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Tim Brosnan, executive VP,
business for Major League Baseball, about the social media marketing impact
that comes from the Fan Cave.
This is the third incarnation of the MLB Fan Cave. How
important has it become to the league's overall marketing and what is different
Awareness is up, interaction with fans is up. Baseball sees it as a really good
way to connect with fans and also to reach people who may not be baseball fans.
We always look for ways to get people talking about what we are doing. We added
a Cave Art section, where you will see different exhibits throughout the
season. The art scene is cool, hip and happening. So why shouldn't baseball be
part of art and music? We are going to have Fan Cave University, and we will
have experts in here talking about quantum physics, politics, art, the city. We
expect a lot of musicians playing here.
Are you seeing results from the first two seasons of
MLB Fan Cave?
The proof is in the pudding: We have more than 1.2 million followers on social
media [led by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram], which is quadruple
what we had last year. And remember, we are talking about a place in space. We
manufactured this. And we expect to get the same [growth] results this year. So
four million followers is not out of the question by the end of the year. And
the most important aspect is that the average age of those followers is 20
years younger than the average age of baseball followers. Every business is
trying to figure out how to attract people who are 18-34. That's good for any
business. And we're getting them in the millions.
MLB marketing partners have been involved from the
beginning, but are they playing a larger role and moving beyond being set
decorations in the Fan Cave?
The companies with whom we work love this concept and are getting more
involved. Remember, the first year was really a work in progress with two guys
sitting and watching every game. We were still doing major construction just a
week before we opened for the  season. There has been more time for
planning and for generating ideas and turning them into concepts. You see
Scotts here, Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Sony, T-Mobile other major partners. They
all want to reach the same audience that we do.
What have you heard from your partners about the Fan
Indra Nooyi [chairman and CEO for PepsiCo] came in here last year and was agog,
totally amazed. I remember that she looked around and said, 'I get it! I get
it!' Which was cool. Pepsi has made a significant investment in the Fan Cave
and she had not seen it up until then. We were having a board meeting
downstairs with our owners, and she came in and said to us, 'Do you know how
hard people are trying to get where you've gotten with this space?' So we're
pleased, but we are not resting. We think that this year, with the talent that
we have, and the experience that we have from the first two years, we can take
some major steps forward.
How much has MLB's interaction with fans changed in
just the two years since the Fan Cave opened?
Social media and fan interaction is key to what we are doing. We have blogs
going on, videos going out. We show live concerts from the Fan Cave. This year,
we added Mission Control, powered by MLB.TV, which not only monitors each
stadium but enables us to have chats between people in the Fan Cave and fans in
the stadiums. We have our social media experts constantly monitoring this. The
people who oversee the Fan Cave website give us feedback. We are getting better
every day at reaching the people who live on the digital water cooler [holding
up his cell phone]. But what we are not afraid to do, which we can't do in a
lot of other contexts, is experiment. If you ask me what is spontaneous in the
Fan Cave, I would have to say everything. Any idea that you have, within
reason, we can try to advance it.
How involved are MLB's teams?
They have been involved in many ways. We get athletes from out-of-town teams in
here when they play in New York. This year, we have all 30 teams involved in an
effort to find a 'super fan' who will get to visit the Fan Cave while their
home team is in New York [to play either the Mets or Yankees]. We're already
hearing from teams that they are really excited about the concept.
Was there any pushback from team owners that the MLB
Fan Cave was a good idea?
There was convincing needed when it was just a concept. We had to talk about
what it could become. How effective it could be to reach fans on social media.
How our marketing partners could take advantage of it. After it opened, the
hardest part may have been explaining what we do and what the Fan Cave is to
those who were not here and had not seen it in person. You kind of scratch your
head if you are not here. But when you are here, you go, 'I get it.' And when
you are producing numbers, like the increase in followers or the attention from
the media, those things are tangible. This started out with our ad agency [Hill Holliday]saying to us, 'We'd
like a guy to watch every baseball game on TV.' Sort of like a Big Brother
concept where we would put him in a room somewhere and watch him on
closed-circuit TV. And now here we are.
The MLB All-Star Game is in Citi Field, home
to the New York Mets, this year. What impact will that have?
The All-Star Game has given us [the first two years] a great marketing platform
and a nice secondary marketing platform outside of the New York area. This
year, with the game in New York, it is going to give us a giant content engine
to push out whatever we are planning around the game. It will be a terrifically
This year also is unique because of the World Baseball
Classic, which at the Fan Cave included 32 fans, one from each nation, watching
the games. How impactful was it as a lead-in to the 2013 season?
It was terrific. People wanted baseball and they got into it with the Classic.
We saw a lot of support on social media. We had more than 400,000 followers on
social media platforms. Our [marketing] partners loved it because it was global
and attracted fans who might not have been MLB fans.
What are you learning from social media in the Fan
Cave that you can translate to other aspects of MLB this season and beyond?
The secret to social media, which is not so secret anymore, is that if it's not
authentic, people will turn it off. The era of celebrities just tweeting out
endorsements is on the decline. Now you have to be authentic because people
realize the difference between what's authentic and what is shilling. The
reason the Fan Cave is growing in popularity is because it is authentic. So we
will continue to push the social media aspect and build the connection between
MLB and its fans.
This Q&A was reprinted with permission ofNYSportsJournalism.com.
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