When Major League Baseball began its season last week, fans tuned in on ESPN and the MLB Network to catch their favorite team’s first pitch. But in a move to draw younger fans, the league relied on a new Opening Day partner—Twitch—for programming that had nothing to do with live on-the-field action.
The league used its channel on the Amazon-owned streaming platform to run some six hours of programming on April 1 that featured esports broadcaster Jeff Eisenband hosting special guests to discuss everything from video games and player fashion to ballpark food. The program, called Major Fest, which is still available, has drawn 326,267 views to date. While that is not going to set any Twitch viewing records, it’s not a bad start for a league that is aggressively trying to court a younger demographic.
“It’s important for us to meet our fans where they already are engaged,” says Barbara McHugh, MLB’s senior VP of marketing. “Sometimes you just have to try things and not everything will stick and not everything will work.”
McHugh details the league’s Twitch play and other ways it is seeking younger fans on the latest edition of the “Marketer’s Brief” podcast.
The league has long suffered from an image of having one of the oldest fan bases in major pro sports. The average age for nationally televised games in 2019 was 57, according to data shared with Ad Age by Optimum Sports, an Omnicom-owned sports marketing agency. But the agency cautioned that the stat “has more to do with the overwhelming popularity of baseball among older populations than disinterest among young people.”
McHugh, a Brooklyn native and Mets fan, has made diversifying the game’s fan base a major priority since taking the job about three years ago. A key plank of her strategy is putting more content in the hands of players so they can share behind-the-scenes footage on their own social channels. MLB uses technology from a vendor called Greenfly (founded by former baseball pro Shawn Green) to distribute photos, highlight videos and custom graphics to players.
“Players can message us via the app, requesting certain custom graphics or hype videos and we look to accommodate and provide it all,” McHugh says. Some of the content comes from MLB-employed “Live Content Creators” that the league stations at every ballpark to collect footage from every game, including from unique angles, like running out to the field with a player.
Here, an example from Mets star Francisco Lindor’s Instagram account, which has 860,000 followers.