Social-savvy fans enter Major League Baseball's 'Fan Cave'

NEW YORK: Major League Baseball has amped up its social media and fan-engagement efforts with its second annual "Fan Cave" initiative.

NEW YORK: Major League Baseball has amped up its social media and fan-engagement efforts this season with its second annual “Fan Cave” initiative. The social media-focused effort will go live March 28, which is opening day for the 2012 season.  

Major League Baseball's main goals for the Fan Cave, which will include nine participants this season, are to engage consumers through social media channels and raise the profiles of players by highlighting their personalities, said Jeff Heckelman, manager of business PR at Major League Baseball. In return, the participants will serve as social media ambassadors for Major League Baseball.

About 22,000 consumers submitted entries to work from the Fan Cave this year. Major League Baseball gives participants inside access to games, players, and events so they can chronicle their experiences on social media and share them with other fans.

“By opening up the pool to more people, we really have seen a huge amount of preseason social media and fan engagement already,” said Jacqueline Parkes, CMO of Major League Baseball.

She said the nine contestants, seven men and two women, are actively blogging and tweeting about their lives in the Fan Cave. Parkes said some contestants will leave during the season, and the final Fan Cave winner will be announced in time for the World Series in October.

Throughout the season, Major League Baseball will judge the contestants' performances based on a variety of metrics, such as challenges and social media contests, as well as their social following, said Parkes.

The 22,000 submissions this year were initially cut down to 50 people, and those contestants were asked to “campaign for themselves and earn votes” online, which gave Major League Baseball's PR and marketing teams an idea of the social media savvy of the participants, she added. Major League Baseball invited 30 of those contestants to attend spring training for two days so the organization could get to know each of them better before making a final decision.  

“A lot of them were getting feature stories in their local paper or the major daily in a major market,” said Matt Bourne, VP of business PR at Major League Baseball. “It was like having 30 PR agencies promoting your initiative.”

Parkes said the organization, which is handling all PR efforts in house, has leveraged “the amazing media might that Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Network, and MLB Advanced Media have to really showcase and highlight the things going on at the MLB Fan Cave this year.”

Major League Baseball has also promoted the program through its broadcast, print, and radio partners and via its social networks, she said.

Hill Holiday, the organization's marketing agency, has helped it with marketing and social media for the initiative, said Bourne.

Major League Baseball is hosting a media day on April 2 to introduce the Fan Cave “dwellers” and show the press the cave's “new bells and whistles,” he added.

Last year, the Fan Cave helped Major League Baseball reach a younger audience, engaging fans about 30 years old, rather than the average 45-year-old baseball fan, said Heckelman, Also, 33% of Major League Baseball's Facebook fans “liked” or shared Fan Cave content, which is six times higher than the usual rate for sports pages, he added.

Parkes said the Fan Cave experience is important to baseball because it's an authentic way of communicating with fans and showcasing the organization's 30 teams and all of its players.

“We really believe there is much more power in consumers sharing media with each other and choice-based media versus force-based media, which is us telling people what they want to hear,” she explained. “It's peer marketing, so it's friend-to-friend and fan-to-fan.”

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