I have a confession to make; I skipped school as a kid to go to Mariners games (sorry Mom and Dad). In my defense, the Mariners were pretty good in those years, which created a lot of fun baseball memories growing up.
This is why it makes me sad to hear Major League Baseball is experiencing a huge decline in young viewers, which has the potential to spell some decline in America’s sport if it doesn’t turn around. The demographic problem is a complex one, and MLB’s response has been to focus on merchandise, highlight reels, and apps –in other words, focusing existing consumers with ready resources, and this marketing strategy is not likely to create new fans – so what is working?
The Kansas City Royals fans had some things to celebrate this season. This year is their first playoff series since 1985, they entered the playoffs in the wild card game- which they won against Oakland’s A’s, in four extra-inning home runs (the most extra inning home runs in history).
Despite all of this, what has been the most interesting part about this Royals season however, is not the actual sport – it’s the WOM story they have been crafting.
As my favorite sports site Grantland notes – the KC Royals won perhaps the most important prize this season, the Internet. And though it is only correlative – the viewership of the early part of the World Series reached 19% more 18-34 year olds, according to NBC Sports.
So how did they do it? How does a sports team win the internet?
The Royals did an amazing job this year; focusing on their fans, and created one of the most exciting seasons for their existing fan base, as well as the internet-loving youth. They allowed their own fans stories to be the center of the story this season, and it WORKED.
For those of you who have not been following, here are a few of many highlights:
- This girl got a puppy because the royals won the Wild Card Game. He is pretty cute
- This fan from South Korea who has never been to a game, was given the royal treatment (pardon the pun) at his first season after being a fan since 1990
- Players dancing on the field
- Lorde’s pop hit ‘Royals’ getting new SF friendly lyrics
- Royals players invited the fans to a local bar, and picked up the $1200 tab
- The team raised funds, and helped support a fan with a terminal illness after catching wind of the story.
- here were fan generated memes to celebrate highlights (better than a highlight reel at reaching youth)
The success of sports teams can be traced back to their fans, and with an aging fan base and consumer base, MLB should be concerned.
So what is the biggest takeaway from the Royals’ 2014 banner fandom success?
Creating fans, and making them stick is not always about creating content or rehashing the past – it is about paying attention, listening, and caring about what is already happening. Highlighting and reaching out to fans invites them in and creates far more genuine moments than a highlight reel. Those fan moments are word of mouth gold, and that is the currency of tomorrow’s fans.
Rachel Ullstrom is a self-proclaimed “data nerd,” spending much of her time diving into big data to create a results-driven, data-centric approach to earned media. Rachel also has experience in education marketing and a passion for long-term audience engagement. Based out of Seattle, she spends most of her time with the world’s cutest dog and volunteering as an advisor and mentor for young women. Tweet her @rachieracherton.