Even though social media is a tool that Major League Baseball could leverage for the long-term growth of the sport, MLB laid off its crew of in-game social media coordinators on Friday without warning or notice, according to tweets posted by several coordinators who lost their job. In-game coordinators employed by MLB typically work with social media staff employed by individual teams to handle that ballclub’s social accounts. Though the in-game social media coordinators were assigned to specific teams, they were technically employed by MLB itself. Several in-game coordinators who were laid off had worked for MLB for quite a while, according to tweets they posted.
One of the hats I’ve worn for the past 6 baseball seasons was removed today as the IGC social media program with MLB was eliminated.— Heather Rule (@hlrule) February 12, 2021
Working in this role was such a blessing. Meeting so many new people and colleagues resulted in a lot of great friendships.
Will the quality of MLB social media content suffer as a result of the layoffs? Most likely. In-game coordinators provided an additional resource to each ballclub’s in-house social media team, who made them invaluable assets, considering the fast-paced, time-sensitive nature of social media content creation. Moreover, in-game coordinators functioned as a built-in liaison between MLB and each ballclub, to ensure a team’s online “voice” remained consistent across both MLB and team-owned platforms.
Coordinators frequently infused team Twitter handles with a unique voice and personality. Many credit the online audience growth of teams like Cleveland, Colorado, and Miami to the work of in-game coordinators, who used team Twitter accounts to engage with fans online in a personalized and humorous way. The in-house social media creators and strategists employed by the league’s teams are undoubtedly talented, but their workload just got a lot heavier. Right before spring training.
The careers section of MLB.com advertises its “exceptional medical, dental and vision coverage” to job seekers, as well as other benefits, such as generous paid leave policies and courtesy passes to major and minor league stadiums. Those benefits do sound appealing — for employees eligible to receive them. Many job opportunities with Major League Baseball are considered “seasonal” (April to October) or “temporary,” even when the volume of work and responsibilities for seasonal jobs amount to that of a full-time position.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB.com’s digital production department employed dozens of freelancers in roles requiring similar time commitment and job responsibilities to those of full-timers. But why the reliance on freelancers? Why doesn’t MLB Advanced Media employ more full-time employees to create digital content?
In a 2019 Deadspin piece, Laura Wagner aptly describes MLB Advanced Media’s hiring and labor practices, including its tendency to employ poorly compensated freelancers:
“For a multinational corporation, raking in billions every year in revenue, the scrimping on labor costs for the people behind the scenes seems cartoonishly greedy,” Wagner wrote. “Especially when it’s presented as a way to ‘provide more opportunities for professional growth and advancement’.”
The pandemic has only exacerbated MLB’s efforts to cut costs through keeping hourly wages low and by eliminating entry-level roles altogether. By late March last year, when spring training came to an abrupt halt and the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen, with no baseball games on the horizon, many MLB teams pledged to pay game-day workers and ballpark employees through the month of April or May. In a press statement posted on MLB.com, Commissioner Rob Manfred told fans that MLB had “met the needs of Minor League players by creating a level of uniform compensation for them,” and “made a $1 million joint donation with the MLBPA to Feeding America and Meals on Wheels America.” Manfred also reassured fans that the league’s Clubs “committed $30 million to ballpark employees.”
Donating to a worthy cause is good, especially when so many were in need last spring (and still are). But as Manfred praised teams for doing this, MLB Advanced Media simultaneously laid off at least a dozen seasonal editorial producers (disclosure: I was one). Editing one of the press statements about MLB’s commitment to ballpark workers and the community was one of my final tasks on the job at MLB. That Manfred’s words did not match his actions seemed hypocritical.
For a business invested in long-term growth, Major League Baseball is operating under a shortsighted business model. Its initiatives to grow the game seem to be at odds with its desire to cut the smallest payroll expenses. If MLB wants to grow baseball’s audience, eliminating in-game coordinators who excelled at their job is a strange way to show it.