How has the introduction of social media changed the landscape in Major League Baseball and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays?
The Introduction of a new Digital landscape for Baseball
In the late 1990s, the introduction of The Internet created a new platform that utilized a digital landscape for the promotion of almost anything, professional sports included. Baseball was quick to jump onto the bandwagon once the potential of the medium revealed itself.
What did the move to digitization initially offer Major League baseball? To be perfectly honest, a headache. In the race to secure their digital rights, Major League Baseball spent years fighting for domain names (Twins.com is still under private control to this day) and legally enforcing content and trademark rights to retain their assets and get full value for their intellectual property.
Social Media – The Devil in the Blue Dress.
By the mid-2000s, Social Media was introduced, and for the first time, a simple toolset became available where anyone could publish their thoughts and opinions, for the attention of anyone who followed along. Social Media was quickly appealing to the masses because it figured out how to measure its reach in the form of views and/or ‘likes’ which made for easy content monetization. That made it attractive to everyone looking to promote their brand for monetary gain.
What is also fascinating about social media is that it’s a multi-dimensional platform for the sharing of information. You have journalists, athletes, teams, leagues, and fans all promoting their brands and sharing information.
However, Social Media offers few controls. There is minimal validation in content and no real restrictions on what is appropriate for public consumption. Add the realization that everything on social media is archived almost forever, and it’s where the danger in the medium lies and where the line between fact, opinion and rumours can get very blurry (or maybe murky is the best word) for its users and consumers.
How Social Media has re-shaped the coverage of baseball
There are a number of key social media roles that we should examine to understand the contribution Social Media has made to the coverage of Major League Baseball.
The Journalist and/or Blogger
The Journalist/Blogger is all about acquiring and keeping readers. It’s their job to monitor sports information sources for the constant consumption of information to find ‘Breaking Stories’. A timely news item that goes viral can translate into substantial web traffic/viewership/readers and residual income (i.e. interviews, advertising dollars) that promote and/or compensate the journalist/blogger or the media outlet they represent.
However, the impact of a ‘breaking story’ doesn’t just sit with the journalist/blogger; It can impact the athlete, the team, the league, an entire sport, or even an entire country. Think about the Ben Johnson Scandal. In less than 48 hours, the country went from glowing pride to overwhelming embarrassment.
How do accredited journalists use social media in their coverage of the Blue Jays? They are the pipeline of information from the diamond to the digital landscape. They represent a small minority that can still get close enough to the players, coaches, and teams to get information first hand.
The blogger relies on following these journalists to pick up on this information and get it out for consumption as quickly as possible. Many of the journalists we see on Blue Jay broadcasts are key contributors to the greater blogging community when they post news on their social media accounts.
So then why bother following the many fan blog sites? It’s a tiring process to follow all these news feeds and separate the news from the garbage. As well, the blogger will go into much greater detail and add additional relevant content to complement and give more depth to the breaking stories. Bloggers have time to add value and substance to what started as a 140 character tweet. Bloggers make connections that accredited journalists don’t have time to make. It’s a valuable symbiotic relationship.
The Team / The League
For those unaware, Major League Baseball insists on ultimate control of their digital content footprint (what large organization doesn’t?), and they do it very well. In fact, they do it so well that other professional sports and media outlets rely on MLB AM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media) to manage their digital footprint. The NHL, WWE and the PGA all have agreements in place with MLB AM to manage their digital content footprint.
As it pertains to Baseball, MLB AM controls all the content produced by each of the 32 MLB Clubs and sets strict controls over its use, quality and distribution. That includes social media accounts.
Based on the career postings I’ve seen on the MLB AM and Toronto Blue Jays sites in the past, it appears that each MLB club employs their own set of social media content providers that attend games and control the images and messages that are posted on social media. It appears to be a very tight ship, with likely a huge amount of oversight to ensure nothing questionable is posted.
The Player / Player Rep / Player Brand Manager
This is where the pavement hits the road in terms of maximum impact on teams and players. Players (at least those who choose to represent themselves on social media) are notorious sufferers of “foot-in-the-mouth” disease. Those that share social media responsibilities with media or brand coordinators are constantly at odds with one another.
Players feel they can post whatever they want because they feel like they are invincible and untouchable. Their ‘people’ (those tasked with keeping them on the straight and narrow) will inevitably fine tune and adjust messages posted without their knowledge (if not pull the plug within seconds of posting to limit exposure).
I truly believe that the reality of any situation is somewhere between what is considered the official account of an event, and what the public perception is. That may seem odd, but what one person says is fact, and what another picks up on reading between the lines, is what is likely the reality of a situation. And I believe that those who manage social media accounts for athletes, as well as team officials know this.
Therefore, the greatest damage to a team or an athlete comes from their mismanagement of social media. I’m sorry to be so vague, but without giving specific examples, a picture posted by an athlete on social media (worth a thousand words) and the 140 characters we’ve come to expect that’s attached to the pic, is more than just 1000+ words. It can reveal their mood, their state of mind, their tendencies or preferences, their behaviour, and even their values.
The 2016 US elections proved to everyone that minute and incomplete fragments of information available in the public domain could be pieced together to give the full picture on individuals with crystal clear accuracy. MLB teams are catching on to this. They are using that kind of information to prepare for their games. They are using that kind of information in developing their draft boards. And they are using that kind of information to make personnel decisions.
So when critics of the new information age of baseball say that it has lost its ability to make decisions based on instinct and past experience, I beg to differ. Experience is based on learning from mistakes and using them to your advantage in the future. Instinct is knowing how to process and use the right information at the right time.
With all the free information available for the taking on the internet and on social media, isn’t baseball just gathering the data that’s already been collected and using it to learn from everyone else’s mistakes?
Tino Merianos (aka Coach T).