A funny thing happened the other night at Major League’s All-Star Game.
Actually, a fun thing happened at the game. And that’s a rarity because professional baseball has become an ultra-serious sport, and these All-Star Games have become rather predictable and run of the mill.
The game itself was ho-hum. A 2-1 final score despite all the big bats signaled a game where the biggest stat column were runners left on base. And to add insult to baseball boredom, the game had to go into extra innings until it was finally mercifully decided by a home run.
But the most notable aspect of the game had nothing to do with home runs, strikeouts, or great defensive plays. It occurred in the sixth inning when Seattle Mariner slugger Nelson Cruz turned to the opposing catcher, handed him his iPhone, and asked him to snap a photo of him with crusty home plate umpire Joe West.
Now, West is a baseball legend having recently umpired his 5,000th career game. And for Cruz, taking a selfie – or the next best thing – on the field was a bucket list item. To post with umpire West right in the middle of a sluggish game was inspired.
The fact it happened at all during a meaningless showcase game actually put the event in some perspective. In years past, the league that won this game captured home advantage in the World Series – a big deal. But now the event has been dialed back to the athletic beauty pageant role it traditionally served in the past. It’s less about the game and more about the megawatt stars who play in it.
And in that regard, Cruz’s accomplishment was more than any hit, stolen base, or defensive gem he might have pulled off. Here are 8 reasons why it worked:
- It was real. In an environment where players speak in clichés (“I just give it 110%”), it was a moment that showed us that at his core, Cruz is another fan looking to have a good time.
- It was memorable. In fact the only part of the game that was. In an event that is planned out months in advance, but rarely produces a whole lot of lasting memories, Cruz’s curve ball moment was a standout.
- It was fun. As noted, fun is not the feeling you usually take away from these games, despite the superstar players, the hoopla, and the pregame festivities. Cruz actually created a fun moment.
- It was buzzworthy. It’s still being talked about two days later, pretty much the only All-Star Game moment that generated any watercooler chatter.
- It was a true social moment. Right after the game, Cruz texted the now-famous photo to West (who presumably has a flip phone), and then put it up on Instagram – where it blew up. This is probably a baseball first – and it didn’t harm the institution a bit. And it’s another way social media breaks down the barrier between celebrities and fans.
- It was respectful (in a left-handed way). For Cruz, this was something he had wanted to do during past All-Star Games. The chance to take a photo with crusty ump West made it special. But it was also a moment where Cruz acted like all of us – fans – taking a photo with a guy he admires. As Cruz observed after the game, “He’s a legend, you know. I think that’s the only shot you have to take a picture with Joe West.”
- It was spontaneous. This unscripted moment didn’t come with an attached press release, the media weren’t alerted, and the play-by-play team in the booth was not in the loop. In a game that has become predictable for its 3+ hour length and mundaneness, it was a genuinely refreshing.
- It broke down the 4th wall. That’s the barrier that separates actors – in this case, baseball stars – from the fans. In this moment, Cruz turned to all of us, winked, and did something that just doesn’t happen during baseball games.
In baseball as in radio, we are constantly reminded that “it’s a business.” Between mega-million dollar transactions (for teams and stations), salary disputes with talent, agent negotiations, and the ongoing quest for revenue, higher margins, and EBITDA, entertainment inevitably devolves into commerce.
And yet to fans, baseball is a game and radio is audio entertainment – meant to be enjoyed. Cruz’s spontaneous in-game exploit was a nice reset moment.
And thinking about this odd little wrinkle occurring in a routine annual event – the Major League Baseball’s 88th All-Star Game – also reminds us about the need for big radio station events to feature something that’s memorable, that stands out.
When you think back to all those MTV Video Music Awards shows and Super Bowls of the past, it was those odd, quirky (often) spontaneous moments like Cruz’s in-game photo shoot that stand out.
The best PDs are control freaks, always wanting to manage and stage events. But as Cruz’s stunt reminds us, you can’t always program those moments into your events or festivals. And when they happen, programmers need to let them go. Fans want to be entertained, and oftentimes, it’s those unpredictable, untested, spontaneous moments that stand out, a memorable, and might even go viral.
They are the true home runs.
Thanks to Ken West for the inspiration.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
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