Interactivity is the future of baseball PR

brilliant - Otto Greule Jr

One of the undersold aspects of baseball franchise management is public relations. If executed properly, promotions and publicity stunts can rake in the cash. If not... well, luckily, we don't have to think about that, because the Mariners' PR team is the best in the business. How did they get there? By embracing the future. And the next crucial step is social media.

Something really cool just happened to me.

As Other Davis so eloquently informed us, yesterday was a Mariners Social Sound Off, the latest in a series of efforts by the team to connect their players with their fans by having the latter ask the former dozens of incredibly stupid questions on Twitter. Upon reading Other Davis' awesome post, I found myself compelled to give this Sound Off thing a shot, and wound up submitting two questions of my very own to the Mariners' Twitter feed. One of them - "how much wood would Nick Franklin chuck if Nick Franklin could chuck wood?" - was tragically ignored, but the other... well, see for yourself.

I'm not posting this to brag or anything, but who am I kidding? I'm totally posting this to brag. That's the whole point. I, an otherwise fairly sensible sports fan, derived a certain amount of pride from having my stupid joke question answered by Brad Miller. It's totally irrational. It's nonsensical. It's silly-whack-bonkers.

And it's an absolutely brilliant marketing strategy.

Now, I've made no secret in the past of my adoration for the Mariners' marketing department. For years now they've been regularly churning out baseball's coolest, most original, and most amusing promotional schemes. They came up with Turn Ahead the Clock night, then executed it so brilliantly that when MLB at large tried to rip them off the next year the league just looked stupid. They helped to start the trend of baseball comedy commercials with a 1994 series of what-if ads that made fun of the team's best players. They invented the King's Court, which has since been stolen wholesale by at least two other clubs. From the award-winning Larry Bernandez promos to the hilarious beard hat and lawn gnome giveaways, the Mariners' PR staff has consistently knocked it out of the park, which is more than can be said of the actual team. In a decade devoid of playoff baseball, the Mariners have at least excelled at one important thing: selling the product.

And now, perhaps unsurprisingly, they've hit on the next giant leap forwards. Having perfected the art of ivory tower advertisement, the Mariners are now moving to the ground game and building a social media presence. Their highly active Twitter feed and Facebook page have become hubs of Mariner-fan activity, and their team blogs are terrific sources of insider information, but what I'm really loving here is the Sound Offs. They're fantastic. And not just because my question was answered in one.

You know what sports fans love? Sports fans love to feel important. We love to feel like we're having some impact on the outcome of the game. It's why people heckle, and it's why people wear lucky socks during winning streaks, and it's why the Sound Offs are such a brilliant idea. By allowing fans the opportunity to interact with the players, for free, the team cultivates emotional attachment between the fans and the franchise. I like Brad Miller more now than I did twenty-four hours ago, even though all I saw him do in the interim was get some RBIs and say that roasted asparagus is legit. Those aren't things that typically make me like people. I don't change my evaluations of players based on single-game performances, and I don't have the slightest idea what "legit" means in the context of roasted asparagus. It's stupid, I know, but I also know that the Mariners made me care more about their team by letting me feel like I could have some effect on it. Even if that effect was only to waste thirty seconds of the rookie shortstop's life by making him think about vegetables.

In the past, baseball heroes were untouchable and imposing idols, living in a separate world from the rest of us. Mantle. Griffey. Koufax. Ichiro. They were meant to be looked at but never touched, admired but never spoken to. Now? Now almost every hot prospect tearing up the minors has a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, and maybe a website... they take their spare time to interact with fans and build connections to the game. Taijuan Walker goes on Twitter after good starts and practically begs the Mariners to promote him, which is hilarious and awesome. Lucas Luetge shares amusing road trip anecdotes, which is kind of adorable. Mike Trout - actually, no, Mike Trout's Twitter feed is pretty stupid. Never mind.

Anyways, here's the takeaway. The Mariners' marketing department is brilliant and almost always on point, and their latest attempts at building bridges with fans have dealt with social media. I think it's a genius move: it helps fans feel involved, and it humanizes the players, and it's easy fun for everyone. The Mariners should do more of it. Every team should do more of it. It's the wave of the future.

(I'm kidding. The real takeaway is that Brad Miller answered one of my questions, and he didn't answer any of yours. Nah nah-na boo boo.)

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