To many baseball insiders, the Freedom Pro Baseball League raises some eyebrows. Some will say that the league isn’t “legitimate” or they will list a number of other concerns such as the posting of statistics, etc. That conversation is to be had for another day.
What the league did post recently was an entertainment-oriented YouTube clip with a “reporter” talking with a player about Australia and baseball. Here is the clip:
The bigger question about content like this (from any independent team or league) is whether fans will respond positively and request more entertainment-based concept. The content of this specific video is not the main focus. Rather the focus of this post deals with questions about growing the business of independent baseball forward in 2013 and beyond.
Here are some of the concerns/constraints which exist in the independent leagues today, from the business side of the equation:
- Independent baseball has had mixed success in the most recent 10 years. Some leagues attempting to be “professional” never got off the ground, others started and folded (in multiple areas of the country), and specific teams have internal financial issues to do under-capitalized ownership, etc. Other teams have been successful despite challenges (e.g. Sugar Land did great last year despite playing outdoors in Houston during the hot and humid summer evenings)
- The average fan has more entertainment options to keep the family happy than to go to the local minor league baseball team. From 7:00 to 10:00 during summertime evenings, the average “family friendly entertainment” target consumer now can entertain the family with better access to movies at home, better access to coupons for family entertainment (e.g. bowling coupons), more summertime athletics are going on with kids playing at night, etc.
- Ratings for “reality TV” during the summer evenings still command a sizable audience
- Baseball’s ratings for the World Series have seen declines in recent years due to several factors, although that number may be skewed slightly due to people getting scores & updates from other means other than watching the live TV broadcast
- Many industry insiders do not believe that the independent teams have taken full advantage of their “independence” from the MLB/MiLB arrangement
This leads to several questions about how to improve the product so that people outside of a 15-20 mile radius around each stadium actually care about a particular independent baseball team or about what that team (or the league) offers them outside of stadium-based local entertainment. This is where many schools of thought come into the equation:
- Keep doing business as usual and hope for some better reactions from the local audiences. Remember that no independent league was immune from a team (or teams) with poor attendance and bad financial balance sheets last year. A quick analysis of every league can point out at least one which has some instability
- Try to hire better quality personnel to boost ticket sales and sponsorships. This is a realistic path as the infrastructure is in place, and more passionate & professional staff could shore up weaker markets
- Produce more videos like the one above which are attempts to be entertaining. Obviously production quality, content, authenticity and audience’s tastes (not to mention distribution of content) are all huge factors in any attempt to increase profits while being entertaining
- Add more “value” to the fans by either:
- getting them more involved in each night’s events + off-season events
- giving them content which addresses other needs they have in their lives besides just “local family entertainment”
- Taking advantage of their talent to save a team. For example, this video – and its similar one on the official team YouTube channel – had nearly 4 million views by the end of 2009:
Yes, there were many problems with the team and the city, and the team folded roughly 6-7 months later. The original video (not this one) gained millions of those views by making the front page of Yahoo.com, which was the home page browser millions of people saw when they turned on their computers that morning. The question is: how did 4 million views (by the end of the 2009 season, now above 6 million views) not translate into more people at the gate (2009 team’s attendance)?
Here are some possible answers:
- No “list building” — neither the video, nor the description underneath it, had a phone number to join an e-mail list, subscribe to the very YouTube channel on which viewers were present, join the team’s fan club or anything else
- No monetizing elements — there were no promoted DVD’s (or online videos) for sale of this player teaching parents and kids around the country how to do these bat tricks. There also were no calls to action to book him (through the team) for live seminars, etc.
- No follow-up where, because of the team’s location in Southern California + the famous names associated with that league’s launch, the player made any videos with celebrities teaching them how to do these tricks. Any such attempt which then would have made air (or been shown through the celebrity’s social media efforts) would have translated into more attendance
What most people don’t realize is that many teams currently have personnel who can boost national awareness if given the opportunity. Here are just a few ideas which won’t cost much money:
- Charismatic players can entice fans (via YouTube) to come to the stadium to attempt to beat the player at trivia questions or something like a Wiffle Ball home run derby
- DVD sets featuring managers across a league can be made to teach kids how to play better at baseball
- PA announcers can compel the average fan to appreciate the nuances of the game
- Players and managers can teach parents across the country get more for their money when buying baseball equipment
- Umpires can teach baseball fans some of the funny rules in the rule book
- Managers with years of MLB experience can go on video telling funny stories about their time in the Majors and entice fans to come to the stadium to hear more stories either before games or during the off-season
- Take the time and risk (like the earlier Freedom Pro League video) to attempt to be funny & entertaining. Teams, like good comedians, will risk falling “flat on their faces” repeatedly; but if they find a “winning formula” then they can offer fans across the country something which is not being done by the affiliated teams and leagues
All of this has the potential to give independent baseball teams more exposure, more attendance and – ultimately – more profit. Please leave your thoughts on how you see independent baseball growing and becoming more profitable starting in 2013 and beyond; and please leave your comments from the perspective of if you were a team owner or league commissioner or team executive.
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