Anyone under the age of 50 already knows that the following statement is a fallacy: Baseball is America’s favorite pastime. That statement is about as accurate as saying that the newspaper industry is the preferred way for twenty-somethings to get their news. For a variety of reasons, Major League Baseball has quickly plummeted from “America’s favorite pastime” to the third sport in America. Some of these reasons are not MLB’s fault, the freight train known as the NFL being the most obvious. But a lot of these reasons fall squarely on the slumped shoulders of Bug Selig and the rest of MLB’s top executives. In the sports business world, you need to be proactive and unfortunately for baseball die-hards like myself, MLB has been about as proactive as the Catholic Church.
The most glaring lack of foresight for MLB has been its use, or lack thereof, of social media. With the emergence of the internet and then YouTube, every major sport had to make a key decision, Do we as a league try to control our product or do we let our products be freely distributed without any measurable compensation?
While most of you reading this are probably saying OF COURSE YOU LET PEOPLE PROMOTE YOUR PRODUCT FOR FREE! YOU ARE YOU A FUCKING MORON, JON! While I absolutely agree with that sentiment, it probably was rather difficult for Bud Selig to wrap his aging, non-progressive, used-car salesman brain around this. To his defense he had lived in a world where you never give anything away for free but unfortunately for Bud, he could not understand (and still doesn’t) that it wasn’t free. By allowing people to upload videos on YouTube, you basically had millions of fans providing free marketing to the sport by sharing those videos through Facebook, Twitter and fuck it, even MySpace.
I do not think anyone at the time could have envisioned the impact a site like Twitter could have on how news is delivered, but it’s ability to let millions of users share information in any form has pretty much turned into a free marketing division for countless corporations. Not only does MLB not use these avenues for free marketing but it actually costs them money. I could not find an estimate anywhere but it obviously requires a lot effort, resources, and in turn money to have trolls on YouTube taking these videos down. So instead of using the free publicity, Bud has decided to spend money to not use it…GENIUS! Give this man a raise! Oh wait, he already makes $18.35 million per year. Jesus Christ, imagine how much money he would make if he actually improved the sport over the last decade? The most infuriating part of this whole issue is not that Bud made the initial decision to take down any video that was posted by an unlicensed partner but his refusal to change his mind.
Juxtaposed to Brainfart Bud is the NBA, who took the exact opposite stance than MLB. The NBA made the decision to allow its video to be distributed throughout the internet. The impact of this decision has no greater example than Blake Griffin. I don’t think a morning went by this year where I did not watch a YouTube video of Blake Griffin throwing down a nasty dunk with his nut-sack in some poor defender’s (probably Mozgov) eye. Whether it was on a blog, on my Twitter timeline, a Facebook page, it didn’t matter.
The fact of the matter is no matter where I turned I was watching Russel Westbrook explode on a putback, John Wall doing the dougie, Carmelo hitting a game-winner, etc, etc, etc. In a podcast with Bill Simmons earlier this year David Stern said, “We made the judgment that we couldn’t wall off the world, and indeed we shouldn’t. Be our guest! If you’re a fan now, anyplace in the world, if you want you can get access to 1000 games a year online. We get 30 million streams a week on NBA.com, and they’re on ESPN.com and Yahoo Sports.” Currently 8,762,313 people “like” the NBA on Facebook compared to 444,553 for MLB. While there are plenty of things that David Stern has done wrong, just ask the people of Seattle, he deserves praise for how he has embraced social media.
Unfortunately for Major League Baseball, social media is not the only reason why baseball is slipping down the priority list for sports fans. What good would an article like this do without offering up some changes to improve the sports I love? Nothing, so stay tuned for part 2, where I fix baseball! In the mean time go watch that incredible double-play Asdrubal Cabrera turned the other day…..if you can find it