With the 2017 World Series upon us, fans across the country are glued to their TVs, smartphones, and tablets, streaming the epic conclusion of a season full of surprises, comebacks, and rising talents.
On October 3, the MLB announced that for the first time, the World Series will have a presenting sponsor: YouTube TV, Google’s up-and-coming live streaming service. Launched in April, YouTube TV charges subscribers $35 a month for access to live programming, including sports events, without the hassle of cable. The service is currently available in 49 TV markets, or approximately 2/3 of the country, and Google plans on expanding into new markets in the coming months.
So what’s the deal with presenting sponsors, anyway? Presenting sponsors are actually quite common in the sports world. Organizations from the NFL to the NBA have engaged in countless partnerships like this in the past, particularly for big games like The Super Bowl and the NBA Finals. As a result, many young, brand-conscious sports fans have gravitated towards football and basketball over baseball in the past few years. So while the MLB has opted to not have a presenting sponsor in the past, they are switching things up for the 113th World Series.
From a business standpoint, this is a strategic choice. Consumption of media, including sports, has become increasingly digital over the past few years, and the MLB is not immune to this trend. According to MLB.com, MLB.com At Bat and MLB.TV have become the No. 1 sports app and sports streaming service, respectively. And this year alone, the MLB’s content on YouTube has generated over 1 billion hits.Thus, teaming up with YouTube TV will allow the MLB to further increase digital consumption of the game, as well as to connect with YouTube’s young, tech-savvy user base. Ideally, this will help the MLB attract a new wave of baseball fans, who may have previously chosen to watch football or basketball due to their greater accessibility online.
Of course, YouTube TV also stands to gain a great deal from the partnership. As presenting sponsor, they will have the opportunity to air an array of advertisements during the game, both on air and on the MLB’s various social media platforms. This will raise brand awareness, particularly among younger, tech-savvy viewers who are inclined to using streaming services. Additionally, YouTube TV plans on generating original content featuring some of the players to connect familiar celebrity faces with their product. They are also launching a sweepstakes that will provide a few lucky winners with a VIP, behind-the-scenes World Series experience, as well as the chance to appear on the national broadcast of the games. Ultimately, YouTube TV hopes that this partnership will be a successful first step in developing a long-term relationship with the MLB.
Naturally, not everyone may see adopting a presenting sponsor as a step in the right direction. Some executives and nostalgic fans worry that as streaming becomes more widely available thanks to services like YouTube TV, attendance at games could suffer. However, statistics suggest that despite the recent rise of technology, turnout at the parks is still quite healthy. According to Forbes, the 2016 regular season was the 11th highest-attended season on record. Furthermore, the past 13 seasons (2003-2016) were the best attended in MLB history.
So while I sometimes secretly reminisce about the baseball of my childhood–a game without streaming or constant corporate advertisements–I understand that as technology continues to evolve, the MLB must also adapt. Partnering with YouTube TV suggests the MLB’s acceptance of fans’ increasing preference for a digitized game experience, as well as the organization’s openness to experimenting with new strategies and partnerships. Only time will tell if their deal is a home run.
USBC Journal Writer
Class of 2021