Friday, October 30, 2009

A Past Time Past its Prime

For most of the 20th Century, baseball was America's sport. It was tradition to go to the ballpark and watch the game; and eat a hot dog while singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Players like Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig were legends and dominated talk around town throughout the year.

As time has progressed, baseball has taken a back seat to many new, high intensity sports. The emergence of the NFL and NBA has drawn people away from baseball. Basketball and football have speed and tempo; and big name athletes that can dominate games at any given second. Fans of baseball stars don't get to experience this star power because their players are only batting in about a third of the innings or pitching once an inning for sometimes half the game. You can't turn on the TV and watch a star be a part of every single play in baseball.

It has become increasingly difficult for sports fans to pick up the remote to even turn on the World Series or know who is still in the playoffs. With today's sports fan being driven by entertainment and speed, baseball has simply lost its edge. While attendance at baseball games is still high due to the ballpark experience, TV ratings have suffered detrimental hits. While there will always be fans out there that hate the Yankees, there are few teams in baseball that hold the power or reputation to even be worth talking about once your hometown team is out of the mix. Some teams don't even have high profile stars. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for example, have a well-balanced lineup from top to bottom and are becoming a successful franchise; but they lack the big names to draw country-wide attention.

Another thing hurting interest in baseball is the replacement of baseball in kids' youth by sports like skateboarding, lacrosse, and soccer. While you will still find t-ball leagues across the country, there has been a big transition from baseball to these sports. Every year it seems that these sports elicit more and more interest and participation.

Furthermore, baseball's series of issues with steroids has hurt its reputation as a sport built on tradition and history. Many of the old records have been destroyed by modern players who take steroids. Mark McGuire broke the home run record (70) for a season; but is later sitting in front of Congress facing accusations of using human growth hormones. Barry Bonds broke McGuire's record with 73 HR's and then the all-time HR record; but again falls into the same position as McGuire and has a big asterisk put next to his name by many sports fans. Players like Bonds and McGuire hardly hit home runs in their younger years, and in recent years you could find them all buffed up and jacking bombs like they're hitting a golf ball with a baseball bat. The biggest problem is it isn't just these big stars using steroids. It has almost became a norm in the league today to use steroids for increased salaries and popularity. However, when players get caught, it doesn't just bring their career down, but rather they brings down the reputation and name of MLB with them.

The issue is what can be marketed to fans to bring baseball back? Can you market stars who use drugs? Can you market successful franchises without big names? How do you market a slow paced game of little scoring and variety? There are a few marketing strategies that seem to be yielding success for MLB. One strategy is individual teams that use campaigns to increase hometown support. The Detroit Tiger's executed a "Who's Your Tiger?" campaign that encouraged fans to associate with a player that also helped them connect with the game. A second idea is to continue to make the broadcasts of games more exciting. Slow motion cameras in between pitches, in-between inning interviews with managers, and sound bites seem to be reducing the struggle of fans sitting down and watch a three hour baseball game. without constantly flipping the channel. Overall, however, baseball truly has lost a step. The name of MLB has been tainted from steroids, young players are less abundant, and today's fast moving world has created a transition to fast, high flying sports action with big stars. Although marketing strategies may keep baseball dangling by a thread, it will never be the sport it was. But I guess if.... nope. Plain and simple, no matter how hard marketers and teams try, baseball is no longer "America's Past Time," and it is difficult to imagine it as America's future either.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fantasy Fortune

It has long been the tradition of most NFL sports fans to get home from church, watch their hometown team, and pass out on the couch for the rest of the afternoon; captivated by finishing the list of chores from their significant other by nightfall. However, the emergence of fantasy football has significantly increased the range of games, athletes, and teams sports fans are wanting to follow.

Fantasy football allows regular men and women to engage in the NFL to a remarkable degree. They are able to live and die by the same sword the athletes on their teams do. Fantasy football has owners constantly monitoring scores, stats, highlights, and games they would have never watched before. You can find people in Detroit with Randy Moss jerseys or people with Eagles gear in Oakland. Not because they necessarily have always supported the team, but because their involvement in fantasy football has propelled their interest in players and teams outside of what they grew up on.

Fantasy football allows people to connect more closely with athletes and teams. It contributes to accessibility and the complete football experience. Furthermore, many sports stations devote large amounts of airtime during the week for expert analysis on fantasy football. They are able to market big games based on what players are playing in them; catching the eye of fantasy owners who have that player. People play for money, enjoyment, and love of football. The industry has done nothing but grow and generate money for the NFL and companies like ESPN. Fantasy football appears to have a profound, addictive impact on the die hard football fan.

From a marketing standpoint, fantasy football has benefited the NFL and sports networks greatly. It has escalated jersey and merchandise sales and increased viewer ratings of games. Fantasy football has allowed people to fall in love with players and the star power they possess. Fantasy football has networks like ESPN filling time slots with analysis, predictions, and advice; all for a made up world of football team management. Participants are able to climb into the driver seat of football coaching and make decisions on who to start or sit; much like in real life coaching. Fantasy football has entire magazines dedicated to its followers. ESPN and Yahoo! have entire sections of their website for fantasy matters. It's hard today to talk about NFL football without the mention of the player who broke your team's season or your thoughts on the upcoming year's projections. Fantasy football has become a tradition for the football fan.

Fantasy football has added a kick to the NFL in terms of both profits and interests. It has replaced the historical traditions of only following hometown teams. You will find more people in today's world talking about their fantasy results on Mondays then the actual results of the game. People find themselves pitted against their favorite teams because their fantasy interest in the gain outweighs the support their favorite team. The interest fantasy football has generated for the game and its players is remarkable. It's economic impacts and marketing opportunities are equally impressive. Fantasy football does not appear to be going away anytime soon, which appears to be a positive statement for all parties involved.