Today marks the start of the 2018 MLB season. By this afternoon, balls will be flying out of parks, fielders will be diving and stretching to make that amazing catch, and runners will be sliding into home where the outcome is always an unknown.
The iconic Ernie Harwell – the Detroit Tigers' play-by-play man for decades and decades – used to recite a short poem, “The Voice of the Turtle” on Opening Day – the sure sign the snows are gone (hopefully), spring has returned, and the much-awaited baseball season is about to get underway.
For fans of sports, especially in cities like Detroit, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and others, Opening Day is an unofficial holiday where thousands of locals take a “personal day,” spending the afternoon at the local ballpark, enduring weather that isn't always very springlike.
And to make the day even more special, MLB is doing something quite a bit different this year – each of the 30 teams in the league plays its first game today – rather than have Opening Day staggered over several days.
That move provides a focus to this day, making it more special. And it's the first time since 1968 that MLB has synchronized Opening Day.
But that's not all. Realizing the baseball season's kickoff is of paramount importance in building fan connections, the league is instituting other changes to open up the 2018 season.
As MediaPost's “The Marketing Insider's” Barry Janoff reports, the MLB has been busy in the off-season, getting ready for today:
- A 2-minute spot featuring rapper Jaden Smith (yes, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's son) singing “Icon,” accompanied by images of the superstars of the game has been produced. It will have multi-platform exposure across TV, the web, and social.
- Baseball be promoting its biggest personalities – Yankee slugger Aaron Judge will be in the center of that focus.
- Food will be a big draw, highlighted by the first MLB FoodFest next month in NYC. The theme is “30 Ballparks, 1 Plate,” featuring food from each club in the league.
- Several teams will participate in Bark in the Park (and similar promotions) where fans will be able to bring their dogs to the game as part of a fundraiser for ARF, the Animal Rescue Foundation.
Of course, baseball is tackling some of the same problems that traditional entertainment platforms (like radio) are facing. The culture and sensibilities are changing. The games are long and slow. And young people aren't exactly showing up in droves to the old ballpark.
So, give MLB credit for making a big deal of out of this season, branded today with “Opening Day: Worth The Hype.” We'll see, of course, but you have to give the league and its affiliate teams credit for marshalling their resources behind the new season.
In radio – oddly enough – the 24/7/365 nature of the business erases timelines. Radio is always “on” – all day, every day. There's no beginning, no end, no awards show, no championship. Radio simply perpetuates itself as one year rolls into the next.
There are no seasons. There is no Opening Day.
Even television has enjoyed the hoopla of each year's new fall season (although that's been diluted over the years).
From a ratings standpoint, radio has its phases, thanks to Nielsen – referred to as the spring, summer, fall, and winter “books” in larger markets. But these are delineations the audience is oblivious to – only radio pros know when these rating periods begin and end.
While radio fans appreciate consistency – with music, personalities, or traffic and weather at the 8's – they also want to hear something new and different from their favorite stations. A new event, a new show, a new feature, cool new merch, or even more '80s added to the playlist next week because you told us that's what you want to hear.
And there's no reason why stations couldn't create their own “Opening Days” by saving up a few improvements, and staging them in a big, exciting package that captures the audience's attention – and maybe even their imagination.
Radio needs to celebrate its institutions, its benchmarks, its events, its traditions, but also its innovations. As one of many entertainment and information options, local radio stations find themselves not just competing against other stations down the dial, but other media of all stripes, and yes, even sports. It's all about how consumers spend their time – and their money.
And even stodgy, old, traditional Major League Baseball is figuring it out.
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 1,200 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.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.