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MLB Opening Day Redux

Looking At The Social Winners Of 2020 And What’s Next For 2021

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March 31, 2021
June 21, 2022
 min read

The 2021 MLB season is upon us, one which thankfully will look and feel more like past years for millions. The pandemic shortened 2020 season, one with no fans in the stands until a neutral site World Series, artificial crowd noise, cardboard cutouts and acres of tarps covering empty seats, will hopefully be a distant memory now that we are at Opening Day. However, as we look back, there were some surprises on the business side, some of which even surpassed the unexpected results on the field for many teams. In a year where brands could not measure traditional experiences in and around MLB games, the pivot went to the social space. Let’s take a look at the impact made, lessons learned, and value gained even with all the curveballs COVID-19 brought us last summer and fall.

Who Were Some Of The Winners? 

Leading off the winning social lineup was Benjamin Moore paint. In a time when many of us were home doing a little more to spruce up our house, this partner for many teams found fun ways to insert themselves into a social narrative.  In addition to their "Wallpaper Wednesday" campaign with the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, the brand also sponsored customized baseball jersey graphics for fans to use as backgrounds. The result was a  massive 220% gain in social value from the start of the season until the end, driven by the partnerships with two of baseball’s most iconic franchises.

Another surprise? How about “Visit Mexico,” which used a new partnership with the Yankees,  sponsoring the team’s starting lineup. This gave the hospitality brand a top 10 overall spot in engagement, made even more unusual given the fact that few, if any, could visit our neighbors south because of COVID restrictions. 

Another surprise entrant in the top 10 was Planet Fitness, who used social engagements and short-form at home workout promotions to expand their partnership with the Detroit Tigers. At a time when at home fitness was top of mind, Planet Fitness readied folks for a safe return to gyms with a fun, and engaged social play.

Then you had another team that literally spent last season (and will start this season) on the road, the Toronto Blue Jays. TD Bank took advantage of the Jays home standing in Buffalo due to border quarantine restrictions and landed the second-most social media value of any MLB club. They used signage and online promotions to stretch both across the border and into Western New York, as Toronto looked to engage fans watching from their home away from home.

There were other interesting valuations of note driven by the awareness fans had around the pandemic. Healthcare providers and pharmacies dominated the top 20 brand partnerships as measured by social media value, including Independence Blue Cross with the Philadelphia Phillies, UCLA Medical Center with the LA Dodgers, and CVS Health with the Red Sox. The Yankees also landed four partnerships in the top 20, including the aforementioned “Visit Mexico” campaign, as well as their partnerships with T-Mobile, Budweiser, and MasterCard. The Cubs partnerships with Benjamin Moore, Budweiser, Toyota and Wintrust Financial also netted top 20 value, while the Dodgers with Camping World, Nike, and UCLA Health System garnered three top 20 spots.

On the brand side, new top performers like Benjamin Moore, Visit Mexico and Planet Fitness were key movers in the social impression needle throughout the summer, but some of MLB’s biggest and most expansive partners…Nike, Budweiser, Toyota, T-Mobile, GEICO, State Farm, Old Dominion Freight Lines, and even New Era Caps…really used their approach of being in multiple ballparks and on multiple screens for a captive audience, to their best advantage.  The brands that found their ways not just into creative partnerships, but ones that had strategic placement across those miles of empty seats, came out the winners on a national basis and helped drive the needed engagement that comes with the glory of baseball in the summer.

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Team Creativity

While creativity reigned on the partnership side, teams were limited on expansive engagement last year. Without community events, onsite activations and even giveaways, only four MLB teams saw their social value go up year-over-year. That’s not to say there weren’t creative winners in the engagement space, the Dodgers led the way in overall social post value on their way to the World Series. Meanwhile two young teams, the fast-climbing Tampa Rays and the high-octane San Diego Padres, found the largest year-over-year growth, which was amplified by their breakthrough seasons on the field. San Diego had the most and grabbed a lot of the accolades for social engagement when Petco Park was empty.

Looking Ahead To First Pitch

Now as we go ahead into 2021 will these newcomers, along with the stalwarts we have seen over the years, continue to dominate the screens and social attention of fans? In many places tarps will be gone, replaced by screaming, masked and socially distanced fans, who will pull some of the airtime away from the static backgrounds of 2020. However with those fans in the stands will come more in-game activations and other programs that have made MLB the great brand partner for decades. We should, and will see social best practices learned from last year’s empty stadiums continue to be a key part of engagement, as some of those lessons will fit well with a fan who may be even more digitally savvy and engaged than even a year ago. The consumer found, and liked, many of the creative ways that baseball delivered its product to an eager audience at home in 2020. Now they will seek to keep those best practices flourishing as fans bring mobile devices not just to their living room, but to the ballpark this year.

Will there be any losers in the engagement side from the summer of no fans in stands? Looking at the list of smart, savvy and nimble companies who won the engagement battle under challenging circumstances it would be hard to see a fall off. What we will see is amped up battles for discretionary income that will go from the home to the ballpark to wherever fans are consuming baseball this summer. That game, the contention for eyeballs and disposable income, will be hotly contested as we return to normalcy, and to the places outside our homes where we will watch, engage and enjoy America’s Pastime this summer.

Play ball MLB, we welcome you, and your partners back. We have been waiting too long.

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