Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Veeck once said: “The most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people.”
I could not agree more. As a ballpark chaser in the final leg of my bucket list journey to visit all 30 Major League Baseball ballparks, nothing beats road trips in different regions to watch America's pastime. It provides unique travel experiences to explore new cities, observe different fan-bases, sample the local fare and create lifelong memories.
Since I started chasing ballparks several years ago, I found that not only did each park offer unique architecture, field dimensions and experiences, but I became intrigued to see how MLB, teams and sponsors/advertisers are embracing digital and social media.
Thanks to an enrichment grant awarded by my employer, I was able to cross four new ballparks off my list in September 2015. My trip provided the opportunity to observe the intersection of sports, social media and interactive experiences – specifically the fan experience at the ballpark – to potentially spark ideas for sports-related accounts on roster.
Departing from Chicago, stops along the 1,200 mile trip included Detroit’s Comerica Park, Progressive Field in Cleveland, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park and finally U.S. Cellular Field back in Chicago.
The main observation noted across all five ballparks was heavy promotion via signage and public address announcements for the two official MLB mobile apps: At Bat and Ballpark. At Bat is billed as “the #1 source for live baseball” allowing fans to track scores, stats and even listen or watch live game broadcasts with paid subscription. The aptly named Ballpark app serves as fans’ mobile companion when visiting a new or favorite ballpark.
To bring more interactivity and appeal to the Ballpark app, MLB was one of the first leagues to embrace Apple’s iBeacon technology at scale. Upon entering a ballpark, iBeacons placed at entrance gates will trigger a welcome notification to fans’ mobile devices via the Ballpark app, encouraging check-in to unlock exclusive offers and in-game highlights.
Beyond promotion of these apps, the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox keep much of their social engagement and promotions in their native digital channels and off the video boards and public address announcements. However, the new #SoxSocial vending machine at U.S. Cellular field is worth highlighting:
On the contrary, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds impressed with their well-integrated social media engagement and interactive experiences.
First off, both clubs actively use social media to solicit fan photos for ballpark video boards and conduct exclusive promotions:
In addition, the Pittsburgh Pirates host Social Media Night several times a season plus frequently award free tickets to the Social Media Suite.
A few hundred miles to the west, the main concourse of Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark features the Reds Connect Zone. New in the 2014 season, the Reds social media headquarters for fans has plenty of screens to watch the game, follow various social feeds in real-time and of course, charge your smartphone.
With clubs like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds (and their respective ballparks) at the forefront of providing an enhanced ballpark experience, time will tell if other clubs will follow suit.
At the very least, I’d love to see MLB increase the number of iBeacons in ballparks and expand primarily beyond entrance gates to point out more in-park attractions and points-of-interest, which would be especially useful to new visitors.
For example, ballpark food is a highlight of the fan experience. If in the vicinity of a popular or top fan-voted food stand, a fan would receive a Ballpark app notification with name and location of said stand. Same goes for ballparks located in established brewery regions.
Ballpark history and facts are another opportunity to leverage iBeacons. If strolling through the outfield concourse, a notification containing the location, distance and player to hit the ballpark’s longest home run is another instance.
A final example would be highlight existing in-park attractions with clubs intentionally adding new exhibits (perhaps on rotating basis to keep it fresh for local fans). The Chicago White Sox have started to do this and would be great to see other clubs reciprocate:
No matter what the future holds for enhancing the ballpark experience with social media and interactive technology, one thing is for sure: Ballpark chasing will be more exciting and allow fans of all ages to appreciate America’s pastime in new, unique ways.