On March 26 the Marlins were supposed to be hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park.
Instead, they brought the game into the homes of their fans with the teams playing virtually on “MLB The Show 20,” with the controllers handled by Miami shortstop Miguel Rojas and Philadelphia first baseman Rhys Hoskins.
“It was something our social media team came up with a little more than a week ago,” Jason Latimer, the Marlins’ vice president of communications and broadcasting, said. “[Miami Marlins Social Media Coordinator] Sarah Penalver on our team came up with a thought of recreating a Virtual Opening Day for our fans, and we ran with it from there. She did a lot of the heavy lifting and reached out to the Phillies, and they were on board. It was awesome that they were excited about it.”
While nothing can replace an on-field Opening Day Latimer did not see that many differences in the Marlins-Phillies virtual encounter, which drew roughly 10,329 viewers and 25,000 unique impressions on the former’s YouTube Channel, he said. Of the viewers, 83% of them had not been subscribed to the Marlins’ YouTube account, which saw a 10% increase in subscribers to more than 5,930.
As the Marlins’ first foray into esports, the experience did present some challenges. Not only did they wind up losing 2-0 to the Phillies, but there were also small glitches that occurred at the start of the game, Latimer said. Offseason acquisition Jonathan Villar had a leadoff home run that was taken away due to technical issues.
After some of the initial problems, Latimer was particularly intrigued by some of the in-game dialogue between the opposing teams. During spring training, ESPN and MLB came together to air a series of all-access games that had players mic’d up with ear-pieces. In a spring training game against the New York Yankees, Miami put a mic on second baseman Isan Diaz, who would discuss his approach to game day and the start of his second season with Fox Sports Florida duo Paul Severino and Todd Hollandsworth.
“I think that this paralleled that experience where you got some interesting insight about playing the game, but how these guys are in the same position as a lot of the folks around the country,” Latimer said. “They’re inside; they’re hanging out with their families and trying to find ways to be productive within their households.”
Although its esports presence is still relatively nascent, Latimer did find certain aspects of the Virtual Opening Day that worked well. Both Rojas and Hoskins were able to answer fan questions during the simulation and engage in dialogue with them. The viewers’ all-access look into the players’ lives was also something that Latimer thinks they were interested in knowing more about.
As for the Marlins’ future esports endeavors, Latimer did not say whether or not they would have more virtual simulations to come. “I don’t think we want to saturate that,” he said. “However, I think that there’s an opportunity here for fans and players to connect. I think across a lot of sports right now, everybody’s finding unique ways for fans to get a view of the real-life of a player which they’re probably noticing isn’t much different than their own.”
The Marlins’ efforts at connecting with their home-confined fans will not stop at just esports. The team’s website now features a “Fun At Home” section for families with children to interact in different activities. The page provides resources like coloring pages, word searches, a novella titled, “Fun At Bat,” and baseball-related tutorials focused on player development, coaching, and professional tips.
Even though there is not any baseball going on, Latimer does not think it should stop the Marlins from still trying to connect with their eager fanbase.
“What we’re trying to do across our platforms is just really be as informational as we can about the situation and what our league is going through,” Latimer said. “We also want to appeal to that baseball fan as much as possible that’s sorely missing his or her favorite sport right now. We want to enrich the lives of the folks that are at home and sticking around with their families.”