When the 2020 MLB season began in July with empty stands, the league still managed to bring its homebound fans into the ballpark to cheer — or boo — during games.
MLB’s “Cheer at the Ballpark” feature resonated with baseball fans so much, the league has decided to incorporate it into this year’s World Series.
The league launched “Cheer at the Ballpark” ahead of Opening Day on July 23 across the MLB.com website, Gameday app and various social media links. It allows fans to engage with their team’s games by alerting scoreboard operators at ballparks about their reactions. The operators receive a live interface reflecting fans’ thoughts, enabling them to adjust the type of artificial fan noise inserted into the relatively empty stadiums. At Globe Life Field — the site of this year’s World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers — Game 1 drew 11,388 fans, roughly 28% capacity at the 40,000-seat ballpark.
For those logged in, other fan-interactive features on “Cheer at the Ballpark” include users being able to see what percentage of them are rooting for certain teams while the three reactions — cheer, boo or clap — appear on screen, akin to the heart emojis that circulate on an Instagram Live video. The cheering option pops up alongside the Gameday score graphic and pitch-charting visual, and appears on all 30 clubs’ team websites. Teams can then share links across their various social media platforms.
With “Cheer at the Ballpark,” Vasanth Williams, chief product officer at MLB, says that its postseason presence is meant for the majority of people who are unable to attend this year’s Fall Classic.
“What we think about every day is, ‘How do we bring the excitement of baseball to the fans — no matter where they are?’” Williams said. “Just because we have [28%] of the fans doesn’t mean that the problem’s solved and fans are back. It’s not, and we still think we have to solve [that problem].”
Originally, the feature’s shelf-life was the regular season — but that changed come October. Entering the Wild Card Series, MLB made the decision to extend the feature into the postseason after it generated more than 71 million fan reactions on MLB.com during the regular season.
“It’s not the same as sitting next to your best friends in the stands, but to create a sense of fan community and a sense of engagement and their favorite teams, it will help reinforce what will be a unique season,” Chris Marinak, chief operations and strategy officer at MLB, told ESPN in July.
Entering Game 2 of the World Series, Williams says that “Cheer at the Ballpark’s” popularity has increased considerably throughout the postseason. He was unable to comment on the feature’s exact growth, but stated that engagement has risen series-by-series, beginning with the Wild Card games and through the Fall Classic.
Regardless of how the season ends, Williams has already said that “Cheer at the Ballpark” will continue on into the 2021 campaign. While knowing that 2021 will look — and provide — different challenges than 2020, he and his team have already begun strategizing numerous ways to improve the feature. Following the World Series’ conclusion, those talks will only accelerate as MLB waits to figure out where most fans will be tuning into games next season.
“This is the time where we really think through these problems, get feedback and then regroup and figure this one out,” Williams said. “That’s how we’re thinking about it. You’ll see an evolution of it in some way, depending on where we are in this ongoing cycle. I do expect some kind of an experience that will continue to evolve that for the fans, and not have it be exactly the same product as it was before.”