MLB Hits Home Run With Opening Day

MLB went with a more modern Opening Day logo too. (Image via sportslogos.net)

More than just homers and strikeouts for fans to be pumped about this year.

Often criticized for being stale, boring, and stuck in the past, Major League Baseball did an EXCELLENT job leveraging a celebration of the game’s tradition with some contemporary fun and innovation to generate excitement for the start of the season this year. As we saw on Thursday, baseball certainly opened with a bang!

Yes, there were plenty of home runs hit in the 15 games across the league, but perhaps the biggest blast of all was the league’s inventive marketing campaign that put the capital letters back in “Opening Day.” What had once been a celebratory flagship event for the sport had become watered down over the years as franchises had grown accustomed to spreading out the launch of their individual seasons over the course of a few days. A more accurate way to describe what had developed to the start of the league’s season would be a lackluster slate of “opening days.”

Not in 2018! For the first time since 1968, the league scheduled all 30 teams to play their first game on the same day (of course Mother Nature intervened, but the sentiment remained…). The league paid homage to the past by turning the beginning of the season back into the laudatory event that Opening Day used to be. Fans were justifiably excited because, as Grant Brisbee of SB Nation notes “nobody liked the staggered season openers. The players didn’t like it. The fans didn’t like it. It probably annoyed the people at ESPN…and returns weren’t that great.”

The scheduling move was widely praised by Brisbee and others that follow the sport, as it revived “Opening Day as the greatest of all sports days, the purest start to any professional sports season. It’s something that’s been feted and beloved for more than a century, the only day where kids mysteriously disappear from school and return…with a sunburn.”

MLB further leveraged the popular scheduling change with a clever campaign in partnership with Kingsford Charcoal designed solely to promote it. The pair partnered to produce an exquisite official “#OpeningDayIsBack” commercial centered on the March 29th activation effectively blending the past and present.

The promo opened by featuring legends of the game like Vin Scully and Johnny Bench making the announcement to recall the league’s great legacy, and paired them with present-day greats to keep the spot relevant and make the content universally effective. After paying homage to the past with Bench, Scully, and a recollection of the “Opening Day’s” great history, Kingsford and MLB brought it back to the future and kept it entertaining by including Noah Syndergaard, David Ortiz, and their quintessential charisma and humor to add levity to the tradition.

A Movement I Can Get Behind! (Credit: PRNewswire.com)

Ortiz gets cubicle workers fired up about “Being the boss!” and taking the day off to watch the start of baseball and get grilling; while Syndergaard shouts from the rooftops that he’s starting a movement to Make Opening Day a Holiday. “It’s not technically a holiday…but it DAMN well should be!” The tone and comedy make the idea of embracing the tradition much more accessible and contemporary for today’s younger fans.   

The league didn’t stop there, creating a multi-pronged marketing campaign across all channels to embolden excitement for the upcoming season and, as Nuke LaLoosh says to Crash Davis “Announce my presence with authority.” MLB surrounded the March 29th Opening Day with broadcast promos like the Kingsford spot, an #OpeningDayIsBack Twitter activation to accompany the movement across social media, and produced some great viral videos to share online.  

Major League Baseball was obviously targeting their much younger demographic, as they released an “Opening Day: The Hype is Real,” spot that “takes a much different tact than traditional MLB spots.” As Barry Janoff of Sports Journalism noted, it includes “action interspersed with highly stylized studio shots…all playing out to the driving rap beat of Jaden Smith’s ‘Icon.’”

This was not Field of Dreams overlayed with John Fogerty; definitely directed at the online audience with flashy images and a rap soundtrack that made it perfect for YouTube, Instagram, and other social sharing.

Right before the start of the season, MLB really solidified their new, more innovative approach and showed they know how to have fun with the release of a tongue-in-cheek “Baseball is Coming,” Game of Thrones themed promo that leveraged pop culture to reach a broader audience. Clips like these have proven to be highly successful in generating buzz and keeping the sport relevant, as Promo Marketing and others have published studies indicating that “data shows licensed pop culture promos are extremely effective for MLB teams…in making their coffers larger.” (That’s code for “drawing bigger crowds to the game.”)  

This definitely goes down as a “Win” for Major League Baseball’s marketing team, as I got so caught up in the excitement of the campaign and hyped up for Opening Day that I almost forgot to write the column! Now, let’s see if the league can keep the momentum going and build on the newfound energy throughout the year.