Case Study: MLB Fan Cave


In my social media class, my teacher asked us to complete three case studies of our choice. I decided to post my case studies on my blog because they are sports PR related, and therefore, relevant to my blog. I’m going to post them exactly as I turned them in to my teacher so please excuse the references to class lectures and readings. I’ll try to explain where I can, and anything added will be in brackets. Here is a case study I wrote about the success of the MLB Fan Cave.

Summary

In 2011, Major League Baseball struck social media gold when it implemented the MLB Fan Cave, a social networking hub for baseball fans at every level. The creators of Fan Cave created a site in New York City where two baseball fans, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner (who were selected from 10,000 applicants) would watch every baseball game from the 2011 season. In total, the two fans watched 2,429 games beginning March 31 and ending Sept. 28. Wagner and O’Hara used social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to connect with fans and create conversation. O’Hara and Wagner posted regularly to a blog and created video content for Fan Cave fans.

Issues at Stake

The sports social media market has its own long tail curve, but it has many micro markets–or what Chris Anderson calls fractal dimension–for each sport.

It would be hard for Major League Baseball to create a social media strategy and jump ahead of organizations such as the NBA or NFL. Each league and sport has its own micro market. The Fan Cave didn’t need to jump ahead of other major sports leagues and their social media, it just needed to jump to the forefront of baseball’s social media.

The biggest issue at stake for Major League Baseball was increasing the baseball conversation. The creators of the Fan Cave knew that social media was the way to go, but they wanted focus on more than a Facebook page or Twitter account. For them, it was about increasing conversation in an interesting way that would stay fresh and new for the six month season. The second issue was reaching a different generation of fans without losing the older generation of fans MLB already had. It was important to create a place for fans of every level to want to hang out and take part of.

According to an ESPN article, the average baseball fan was 45 years old. MLB wanted a way to reach younger fans and still keep older fans involved. According to the same ESPN article mentioned above, “The endeavor also allowed MLB to reach out to a more casual fan without alienating die-hards.”

To keep younger fans interested, the Fan Cave featured more than just baseball talk. O’Hara hosted Cave Chat, a short video segment with celebrity guest stars. O’Hara kept the chats to pop culture but tied baseball in by asking celebrities and guests about their favorite teams.

The Fan Cave also held parties with musical guest stars such as LMFAO and Sublime with Rome. By integrating pop culture into a social media hub that is centered around baseball, Fan Cave increased conversation around baseball, gained fans and maintained a level of entertainment and interest for six months. Despite integrating pop culture into the Fan Cave, it always came second to why O’Hara and Wagner were there: baseball. O’Hara and Wagner blogged about games, held healthy competitive discussions about games and welcomed 65 players from 24 clubs around the league to come into the Fan Cave.

Pros and Cons

It’s hard to find cons about a social media campaign that became so successful. According to the ESPN article (whose data came from the MLB), “45 percent of tweets about the Fan Cave have been positive. For league and team pages, the number of positive tweets tends to be about 15 to 20 percent. When it comes to engagement, a third of Fan Cave Facebook fans have liked content or posted on the wall. By comparison, on team and league pages, that number hovers around 5 to 10 percent.”

The Fan Cave made more than 100 million social media impressions between Facebook and Twitter. The Fan Cave Facebook and Twitter pages, and the official Twitter accounts of O’Hara and Wagner combined for 150,000 fans and followers. MLB executive vice President Tim Brosnan acknowledged that the Fan Cave accomplished what it set out to do. MLB became a significant part of the online social conversation and made social media impressions that the league did not have the year before.

In the 95 Theses [part of The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger], the first few theses note that markets are conversations between human beings.

The MLB Fan Cave held a contest to find real baseball fans, not PR or marketing professionals, broadcasters or sports anchors. The MLB Fan Cave hired two regular guys– baseball fans–to connect with other regular people and increase conversation, and it worked.

Perhaps the only con regarding this campaign was the level of thought and planning that went into the Fan Cave. The decision to create the MLB Fan Cave was last minute, and the site for the Fan Cave was not budgeted for. The creators of the Fan Cave moved on instinct rather than reviewing case studies and analyzing data, a risk that could have been fatal.

Recommendations

The MLB Fan Cave was a unique idea in 2011. With the second round of MLB Fan Cave coming in 2012, the idea is no longer unique. This is where the challenge lies. The Fan Cave crew need to continue to brain storm innovative ways to keep MLB in the social media conversation. MLB is in the process of finding new hosts for the Fan Cave, which will allow for new personalities to emerge. With these new personalities, new creative ideas will emerge. One suggestion I have is to use social media to create a competition for fans. For example, fans can use a Twitter hashtag to post predictions of games. Those who predict the most games in a row by the end of the season can win a jersey, hat or tickets to a game. Another idea for a competition would be for fans to post photos of themselves in their teams jersey around the United States or the world [the Portland Trail Blazers do something similar]. Every week, the Fan Cave hosts can select a photo to be displayed on the Fan Cave website. Creating conversation was the first step. Now, MLB Fan Cave must keep fans interested by giving them the opportunity to interact and be rewarded for their loyalty.

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