Keeping The Stove Warm: Bruce, Garth, Gaming, Causes All Still Bind Us To Baseball

We are still early in what would have been baseball season, and it’s great to see how the great game has found a home still with the use of technology and simulations. While vintage games still are on the channels every night, the gaming world has taken us to places with both fun, and very realistic simulations for fans of all ages, and maybe, for fans who had fallen away from the game for a while.

There is still no shortage of baseball talk as things find there way back to the field later this spring or early summer, and the business content side continues to be vibrant as evidence by today’s partnership announcement between Minute Media, owner of Players Tribune, the Big Lead and other properties, with La Vida Baseball, run by Chicago’s TeamWorks Media.

LaVida has not missed a beat for content during this slowdown, given that they aren’t driven by live games of content, and have amped up their streaming of a live daily show with everyone from actor John Leguizamo to current and former big leaguers Sterling Marté, Curtis Granderson and Manny Acta during the hiatus.

“Our content offering continues to grow as the discussion around baseball does not stop, and working with Minute Media allows us to continue to expand our significant reach and our business relationships,” said Jay Sharman, TeamWorks Media’s CEO. “The team at Minute Media knows how to engage and grow diverse communities through top-of-the-line publishing tools and technology, and we are excited to reach that wider audience in partnership with them.”

This week, MLB used its annual Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, as a call for action and cause marketing without games this year, driving awareness and dollars to at risk youth and those in need.

MLB followed that up today with the announcement of the “Home Plate Project,” a partnership between MLB, Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation and Big League Impact, which was founded by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, and is currently led by Wainwright and Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson. Players representing each of the 30 MLB clubs raised nearly $1 million to provide over four million meals to combat childhood hunger in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those are just a few of the macro projects that baseball is taking on to stay relevant.

If we can’t watch the games here yet, let’s at least celebrate the ways we can still engage, and these are some great examples of innovation and business smarts. –Chris Lencheski

Then you have the gaming space, and two efforts that have gone well beyond the traditional to engage and entertain the interactive, and in many ways, the non traditional baseball crowd. They are:

MLB The Show

The partnership with Sony Interactive Entertainment is staging a 30-player competitive league within MLB The Show 20 on PlayStation 4. One active MLB player representing each team in a 29-game round-robin regular season. The games are live-streamed by the players, their teams and the social media accounts for MLB and MLB The Show. The league expects to have all regular-season games played by April 30, when an eight-player postseason begins. Postseason qualifiers will face off in best-of-three series, culminating in a best-of-five World Series on May 2. Fans may also follow the action through the official social media accounts for MLB (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch) and MLB The Show (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch).

The stakes are for charity–Sony, MLB and the MLB Players’ Association will each contribute $5,000 to a Boys and Girls Club affiliate in every team’s community. The championship winner will get an additional $25,000 donated to his community’s club, for a total of $175,000 donated.

Strat-O-Matic

Perhaps the business that has made the biggest splash–through perhaps the biggest reinvention of itself in the gaming space–is Strat-O-Matic. The venerable New York-based company founded by current owner Hal Richman grabbed the spotlight before the season started, announcing that they will recreate the season using their detailed stats every day.

The result? Newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle are running their standings and statistics in the paper every day; baseball veteran names like Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville are picking lineups, and audio platforms like Sirius XM and SB Nation Radio have even been doing game recreations using archived highlights. Then, there was veteran San Francisco Giants play-by-play voice John Miller, who joined with partner Dave Flemming to use the Strat play-by-play to call the Giants’ virtual home opener last week.

What has followed has been record website traffic and sales for both the board and online game for the company. The success even led them to an announcement this week where they recreated the end of the NBA season and will do the playoff simulations starting this Saturday. Not bad for a brand which many had forgotten about in a high tech world.

Now, lest we really want to find the rare live game, track down Eleven Sports, which is showing live–albeit in empty stadia–Korean (KBO League) and Taiwanese (Chinese Professional Baseball League) baseball, with Japan (Nippon Professional Baseball) not too far off from restarting as well.

“There is no doubt that we are seeing smart reinvention and attempts at engagement in sports, and given the time of year, baseball is at the top of everyone’s minds, from our political leaders to Bruce Springsteen, who talked openly about his love of the game last week on Sirius XM,” said Chris Lencheski, veteran sports marketer and professor at Columbia University. “The day in, day out power that baseball has in uniting people is sometimes overlooked in this country, and the efforts the sport is making, from gaming to cause to even business deals we are hearing about, is a testament to those in charge and to those who feel its power and its opportunity to return us to some sense of normalcy. If we can’t watch the games here yet, let’s at least celebrate the ways we can still engage, and these are some great examples of innovation and business smarts.”

So while we wait for the delay in the games, we can revel in the innovation and the engagement around the diamond and enjoy the replays, the recreations, the predictions and the business that continues along.