A Gritty MLB Reboot: Why the MLB Needs a Redesign
by William McMahon, Marketing Communication, 2013
This article is the second installment of a three-part series on why the MLB needs a reboot. The third article will be released on Friday.
One of the key elements of a remake is to venture into totally new territory, while remaining familiar. In theory, at least, this is the most likely way to proceed. New origin stories, new ways for characters to meet and interact, new interpretations of old ways drive the consumer. We are always curious about ways to repeat ourselves. Part of what makes baseball special is its fascinating history.
Baseball has become bloated with excessive teams and excessive salaries. An expanded playoffs looms. I’m resigned to the fact that consolidating teams to a more manageable number, allowing more good players on fewer teams, makes entirely too much sense and is a pipe dream for many reasons. I know that something drastic needs to change in our society before player salaries don’t become so ridiculous. But small changes to the makeup of the league(s) can yield far-reaching results.
The proposed move of the Houston Astros to the American League is a step in the right direction. Jim Crane is a genius if he can get MLB to pay him his requested 50 million dollars for what he has to know is a good idea. If all the MLB teams are going to be hanging around, let’s use that to rile up some pride. People complain about the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays playing so often.
But what they don’t realize is that this is a good thing. Any good marketer knows that sometimes it makes more sense to appeal to your strengths. I’m willing to bet viewers will like a big Texas Astros-Rangers showdown. Play up the states and teams that have history. But, for the love of Honus Wagner, please, please, please don’t think for a second that the rich history of baseball needs to be polluted with any more inter-league. The magic is gone, and baseball fans are moving on to see other people. Part of what makes what many consider the most ingenious re-imagining in media recently, The Joker in “The Dark Night,” so interesting within the ethos of the Batman world is his evil presence. Heath Ledger nailed the role and put everyone on edge by representing a deranged, but realistic “other.”
The idea of “the other” is a common phenomena and is studied across the realms of sociology, psychology, marketing, PR, and many facets of the media in general. The concept of “the other,” the “barbarians at the gates,” an unseen opposition is the driving force of suspense throughout literature both new and old, and is fundamental in any horror movie (yes, even the bad ones). It’s a fascinating notion, how humans instinctively react to outsiders and strangers.
Here’s the contradictory dilemma; technology has outpaced baseball (we’ll get to that in a moment). Anyone can see any game with the right platform and a few clicks of the mouse. Not only is the magic gone, but apparently so is the mystery. Everyone needs an “other.” Everyone needs a villain. Or at least a worthy adversary. MLB will never be the same as the old days, when the World Series came around and people had “holy cow” moments seeing a great player from an opposing league- fantasy sports and television have erased that notion of surprise. Two fully separate leagues with two newly established identities (a gradual, nuanced part of the process too detailed to truly envision now) can help provide an “us vs. them” feeling for both sides.
This brings me to the All-Star game. Sigh. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I honestly do not see the right answer for the league. On the one hand, taking only the flashiest of All-Star concepts and borrowing from the NBA could be fun. Skill competitions and celebrities drives viewers, drives interest, and in this new era of 25/7 (not a typo) coverage, steady coverage during a break. Making the MLB All-Star game a summer hangout destination could be a money-making phenomena. Concerts, showcases, and festivals take place even in what we might take for the most boring city.
Done right, an MLB All-Star Weekend similar to the NBA could be a brilliant shift for a commissioner (though it is highly unlikely Bud would allow this to happen in his reign). However, running with the current state of baseball, a strategist may have to shift their goals based on the current mess. If the All-Star game is going to count, it should count. MLB should figure it out whether it be with contractual guarantees, a deal with the players union or a Commissioner descending from his office with a new set of unwritten baseball commandments. Baseball needs to assess a way to make its players care about the game like they used to in the sport’s past, when the players’ pride factored heavily into All-Star games.
Perhaps I am naïve to think something as simple as a re-branding of National vs. American League as us vs. them will spark that much more passion. If Bud Selig continues to remind us that “this time it counts,” there is only so much one can do. But in that mindset, of pitting the leagues more prominently as, pardon the ugly phrase, ‘separate but equal,’ will lead to a slightly altered playoff/All-Star Game relationship: With the additional rounds, the All-Star winning league gets home field advantage in the first 3 rounds. The World Series? A coinflip. It must be. An added air of mystery to the battle of the leagues.