The following article is brought to you by the ILR Sports Business Society and written by Thomas Kroner. Thomas is an undergraduate in the Industrial and Labor Relations School, with minors in Business as well as Law and Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The original version of the article can be found here.
In order to improve their appeal to young people, Major League Baseball needs to make up for lost time on YouTube. For years MLB kept their video content off of YouTube, disallowing anyone from putting MLB footage on their own accounts. The first video on the league’s official YouTube channel didn’t get posted until after the 2010 season.
Both the NHL and NBA posted their first videos during their 2006-2007 seasons. These leagues also allow other users to post their content without fear of copyright consequences. The NFL does not have an official YouTube channel, but it’s the NFL and they will always reign as kings of popularity in America, so it really doesn’t matter what they do on YouTube.
Why am I using YouTube to illustrate my point? Because YouTube is awesome, time consuming and incredibly popular. It is particularly popular with younger, student, audiences. I can personally attest to many a nights where YouTube’s NBA videos were my procrastination method of choice. One related search lead to another, and soon I had wasted hours and given up on whatever assignment I was supposed to have been doing (Just kidding, I go to Cornell, I’ve never done something like that). I’m putting my money on the fact that a substantial portion of my readers have had similar experiences…Video surfing on the internet allows fans to watch highlights, follow their teams, admire their favorite players, get excited for upcoming matchups, etc. The inability of MLB to properly use the internet to help gain interest in their league is emphasized by the discrepancy between the view counts between their videos and those of other sports. Compare video A and video B. Both are videos of incredibly stupid plays made by Bay Area teams (share the same market and fan base), yet one has received about 5 times more views than the other.
The NBA and NHL have used their YouTube success to help contribute to an increase in their overall TV ratings. Hockey’s popularity drastically dipped after they skipped the 2004-2005 season, the 2006 finals drew abysmal ratings. Each year after, the ratings slowly increased until they culminated in last season’s epic success. Baseball, however, has not seen any increase in ratings since the advent of YouTube. The NBA Finals’ ratings have increased from the pre-YouTube era and have drawn two of its best ratings since Jordan was a Bull during the Game 7s of 2010 and 2013. There are plenty of other factors at play here, I just don’t think internet competency should be dismissed.
The NBA’s internet prowess spawned from YouTube, but did not remain there. Because their page has been so popular for so long (8x the amount of subscribers as the MLB and NHL combined), they have won the battle for overall social media popularity. The Association has more Twitter and Instagram followers than any other North American pro sports league, including the NFL. Social Media and young people are tied at the seam. Therefore likes today transform into ticket sales and tv viewership in the future.
What baseball needs to do in order to make up for their dormant YouTube years is simply to bolster their current promising internet publicity campaigns. The MLB Fan Cave for instance has over 2/3 as many Instagram followers as the NHL. If the MLB does this and promotes its web endeavors to a greater extent, then it will surely see improvements in its social media presence and will subsequently see an increase in the league’s popularity as a whole.