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How the Yankees broadcasts can help bring younger fans to baseball

Baseball has seen a decline among younger fans in recent years, but the YES Network’s embrace of social media and “fun” can help bring these fans to the game.

Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Have you noticed the music the YES Network now plays multiple times a broadcast to transition to commercial breaks between innings? It’s from “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. You may be wondering why I’m starting an article on the importance of freshness and fun with a discussion of a song from 1971 about a bunch of wasted teenagers at Woodstock in 1968, but there’s something to it.

While this usage is what brought this song to mind for me, the song provides a great metaphor for what is afflicting the sport of baseball today. For generations, baseball seemed to enjoy its relative monopoly on summer fun, with little effort spent on connecting with younger audiences. As baseball lost ground to football and (most significantly) basketball and soccer among teenagers and millennials, the league refused to fight, resulting in the song’s most memorable lyrics turning into a prophecy: a “teenage wasteland” in baseball.

Only now, as the situation has started to become more dire — only 7% of baseball fans are under the age of 18 and youth baseball participation has dropped 41% — the league has started to take notice, as evidenced by the “Let the Kids Play” ad campaign of last years’ postseason (one which, as Greg noted back in December, was unfortunately not received kindly by all members of the baseball media). But with the extensive amount of regionalization in baseball, national marketing campaigns can only do so much.

This is why what the marketing and production teams at the YES Network have done in the last few years is so important.

When I think back to the Yankees of my childhood (the mid-to-late 2000s, for those wondering), I think of two things: tradition and sponsorships. Much of the advertising campaigns relied on previous pinstriped legends, appropriately accompanied by epic theme music. Effective advertising for older generations, those who had lived to see those legends play, but for those who weren’t even in kindergarten when the last dynasty came to a close, it connected about as well as a LEGO brick connects with a wooden block.

While the foundations were laid years ago — see, for example, this old commercial that I found on YouTube — it was not until two-to-three years ago that the YES Network began to go all-in on the “fun” tone, with commercials such as the “Strong at the Core” yoga promo, Greg Bird watching with Brett Gardner, and the Baby Bomber TV spot. Commercials of this type had existed over the years, but they began to feature prominently both on YES itself and on its social media accounts at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017, possibly intended as a way to keep fans engaged and excited for a team in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. This new marketing approach continued even as the team outperformed expectations and became a legitimate contender, as they were followed up by the “Nine Person Booth” campaign of 2018 and the barbershop “There’s a Buzz in the Bronx” campaign featuring Chazz Palminteri.

Now, a fun and lighthearted atmosphere on commercials is not enough to lure in fans; since the commercials are meant to get Yankees fans who are already on the YES Network excited about the season and telling them when games are, they mostly only reach those who are already watching the games. Fortunately, the marketing people at YES recognize this, and attempt to fill the void with a strong social media campaign.

For starters, these commercials can be found on either the Yankees or the YES Network Twitter account (depending on whether they focus on the broadcasters or the players) and are oftentimes retweeted by the other. Additionally, they have in recent years brought a youthful flair to their Twitter profile, utilizing memes, emojis, and pop culture references on both Twitter accounts. See, for example, this tweet by the official Yankees account following a sweep of the Mets in August of 2017, around the time that we last saw Game of Thrones live on television:

All the Twitter accounts associated with the Yankees — the official one and the YES Network most prominently — follow this new youthful rebranding. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and most importantly, it reaches new fans.

As the media mouthpiece of the Yankees, YES has taken a pivotal role in the creation of this new brand, both on these official channels and on their own accord. If you follow any of the members of the YES Network on social media, you will see an immense amount of interaction with the fan base. James Smyth, one of the broadcast booth’s researchers and an immensely informative Twitter follow, tweets like a fan alongside his statistic dumps, including a shoutout to River Ave Blues’ closure and a long-running game of Out of the Park 19 that he tweets about. And of course we have Ryan Ruocco and his podcast R2C2 with CC Sabathia.

These factors combine to give us a different version of the NBA social media reach, albeit on a smaller scale. Unlike the NBA, however, rather than the social media presence being dominated by the players, it is dominated by the broadcasters, the media, and the teams themselves. The YES Network has crafted a persona where, when you sit down on your couch to watch a game, you are not watching the broadcast, you are watching with the broadcast. Through the creation of its social media persona, they have worked to bridge the gap between the booth and the living room, to create a fun atmosphere that the fan participates in, not observes. There’s still a long way to go, but these are the right steps to help end baseball’s teenage wasteland.