“Welcome to the Modern World” greets visitors on MLB.com’s All-Star Game voting page, an irony that is becoming painfully clear for an organization that has underestimated some fans’ ability to optimize online content and social media to their own advantage, with staggering results.
This year voting is being offered exclusively online, in two languages and mobile friendly, for the first time worldwide. No one counted on tech-savvy fans empowering themselves to lift a single team, the Kansas City Royals, to the top of the heap – at one point filling an unprecedented eight out of nine starting positions, which is now five starters as of June 29, and altering the odds of securing the World Series home-field advantage. With so much at stake for a lighthearted exhibition game, articles abound, from sites that run the gamut from ESPN and CBS Sports to Huffington Post and Business Insider, are either hailing or vilifying Royals fans for the results. Regardless of who you root for, it’s obvious there’s a lot that can be learned from this strange twist in user engagement.
The Esurance All-Star Game Ballot is the largest of its kind in professional sports, which makes it a highly visible marketing initiative. In addition to fans being able to vote as many as 35 times per unique email address, they’re encouraged to share the voting page via Facebook and Twitter, as well as to continue the discussion online with #ASGWorthy. With all of the teams promoting this event, what makes Kansas City so different?
During the 2014 season, StatSocial released a report on the demographics that comprise MLB’s fan base. It cited nearly a third of baseball fans falling between the ages of 25-34, with very tech-friendly interests and lifestyles. It’s logical then that voters for this year’s All-Star game would be especially adept at leveraging such a modern voting system. With Kansas City’s recent rise in success as a team, its fan base has been reinvigorated with a massive injection of these younger fans, who are inherently comfortable and active on social media. Add to that a roster of equally young players who are also active and engaged with fans on social media, and you have an optimal, responsive audience for such a campaign.
Royals fans have been criticized for not taking the voting process seriously, when perhaps it’s others who haven’t taken the capabilities of new technology seriously. Point in fact, it seems that the Royals may be the one market that truly grasps the potential in uniting a viral community. When Royals players picked up a $15,000 bar tab for fans as they celebrated their Wild Card victory, it was a result of first baseman Eric Hosmer tweeting an invitation to the entire city. We saw an avid “Super Fan” in Korea, SungWoo Lee, who learned English from watching the Royals play on TV, warm hearts with his first U.S. visit to see the team play. Lee’s support of the Royals had been longstanding on Twitter and a campaign erupted later in the season, convincing his employers to #BringBackSungWoo for the team’s trip to the World Series.
Catcher Salvador Perez maintains Instagram and Facebook accounts where he friends the public and is engaged with them daily. For an organization with a lower ranking financially, these interactions are invaluable in establishing a relationship with the public that aids in building loyalty and brand awareness. Couple that with an onslaught of online articles, blog posts, tweets, status updates, interviews, and reports that continue to encourage Royals fans (sometimes out of spite) to get out the vote.
While this will certainly change the All-Star game forever, in future voting structure and how the home-field advantage is determined, it’s also interesting to witness the might of social media firsthand and how it will continue to shape these types of online campaigns. What’s clear now is that even for the underdog, building engagement, loyalty, and brand awareness in a “Modern World” can carry with it All-Star results.