In 2017, after Jay Sharman’s company began a partnership with The National Baseball Hall of Fame, the businessman uncovered what he felt was a massive opportunity for his budding organization.
“We started doing our research,” said Sharman, founder and CEO of TeamWorks Media. “We just saw a big gap in the marketplace, did our market research and saw how many U.S. Latino baseball fans there were and connected with several people who were equally passionate… there was a void in the marketplace that needed to be filled.”
That led to the birth of La Vida Baseball, a Latino sports digital company under the TeamWorks Media umbrella.
The goal with LVB was simple, Sharman said: be different from everyone else. With media companies such as ESPN and SB Nation being industry leaders in game analysis, he envisioned LVB being an outlet for the Latino fan base to gravitate towards.
To get there, he did something that most traditional sports-media organizations haven’t: emphasize diversity. From editor-at-large Adrian Burgos Jr. to Jennifer Mercedes, host of !LVB Live¡, the people at LVB can connect on a deeper level with players.
Instead of feeling like means to an end for baseball journalists, LVB brings out a side of Latino ballplayers that, according to Sharman, isn’t possible with most other outlets, if any.
“I can tell you I never had a player that I covered give me his cell phone number and say, ‘call every time,’” said Sharman. “That happens all the time because of our team: they’re Latino, they’re bilingual, they speak the language, [and] they know the game.”
“There’s such a connectivity there with the players, which I think the thing that we have done best with [LVB] is resonate with the actual current Major League players,” he said.
According to Sharman, with LVB increasing in popularity, expansion was only a matter of time. Its daily four-hour live show, “La Vida Baseball Live,” has reached over 4.4 million people in only four months of existence, and since June has averaged over 50,000 weekly viewers. Coupled with a ten-fold increase in Twitter followers since the new year, Sharman believed that new partnerships were soon to arrive.
That has led to deals with both Topps, Inc. and ’47 Brand — two official MLB licensors. LVB will collaborate with the duo on content and consumer apparel programs, with a focus on product placement, on-air contests, and celebrity guest appearances.
“La Vida Baseball continues to grow in scope every week as the premier storytelling outlet for everything in and around the connection of Latino and Hispanic fans to baseball, and these partnerships with two elite brands in the space – Topps and ’47 Brand – are the next step in expanding our ability to connect with a wider audience,” said Sharman. “Our content continues to be compelling, timely and diverse, and we will continue to add new partners and voices in the coming weeks.”
According to Susan Lulgjuraj, Topps’ marketing communications manager, upon seeing LVB’s budding reputation with the Latino-baseball community, she thought that a Topps-LVB collaboration was inevitable.
“Obviously [LVB is] trying to reach [Latino] fans — you look at baseball and it makes up such a large percentage of the baseball players,” said Lulgjuraj. “At Topps, we have really great relationships with players like [Indians shortshop] Francisco Lindor and [Yankees infielder] Gleyber Torres and it just made so much sense — it seemed like [LVB] also had great relationships with those same players.”
Despite being the second-highest represented ethnic group in MLB, the industry is still playing catch-up with Latino baseball fans. As recent as 2017, nearly 32% of Opening Day rosters in MLB were Latino – second behind white players at roughly 58%. There is a similar underrepresentation with a lack of minority journalists covering the sport as well.
That’s why when it comes to LVB’s content, it’s driven by visual storytelling. From a video about Hugo “Juice” Tandron, the Marlins’ barber, to Twins’ player Nelson Cruz – whose first-ever baseball glove was made out of cardboard – it’s these human-interest stories that Sharman describes as being the core of LVB.
“It sounds nuanced, but I think [the Latino connection is] where we get deeper stories,” said Sharman. “[Latino players] are willing to open up their homes, they’re willing to let us go with them. They’re willing to go deeper on topics and we’re just talking about subject matter that [other media outlets] aren’t talking about.”
For both LVB and Topps, their union is already yielding results. According to Lulgjuraj, Topps and LVB are working together on select cards within the former’s Topps Now program, which highlights real-time baseball highlights.
After Albert Pujols became just the sixth player in MLB history to club 650 home-runs, Topps unveiled a one-of-a kind card that will be removed from its website after 24 hours. With other cards going forward, Topps will also be working with LVB !Live¡ on promoting its latest-edition card products.
As for Sharman, LVB’s partnerships don’t end with Topps and ’47 Brand. In the near future, Sharman and TeamWorks Media will reveal new distribution partners that will be streaming LVB-related content. Outside of these business endeavors, Sharman still has to grapple with America’s Pastime and its poor history with acceptance. Despite baseball’s relationship with the Latino community, Sharman noted that execs continue to stigmatize it.
This, Sharman states, is what makes him believe that LVB’s work is starting to make a difference, and will continue to in the near future.
“The reason most people work on La Vida Baseball is that we look at it as a platform that gives Latinos a voice through the sport of baseball,” said Sharman. “We think it’s much bigger than baseball. We think it’s a way to engage a community and give people a platform to have a unified voice as opposed to people coming here and just liking to do baseball content.”