KRISTI DOSH FEBRUARY 17, 2022
Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies takes a picture with his phone during the 2021 T-Mobile Home Run … [+] Derby (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)Getty Images
MLB Players, Inc., the business arm of the Major League Baseball Players Association, is partnering with influencer marketing company Influential to help MLB players maximize on their growing social media influence.
The agreement gives 1,200 MLB players insights into their social media data across all leading social platforms, including TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. According to Nielsen data, athlete influencers have the ability to generate 63% more engagement than other social media content producers.
Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, says athletes make good endorsers for brands for several reasons.
“Athletes are aspirational. They pick something in their life and spend all their time dedicated to it—10,000 hours or maybe 100,000 or 200,00 hours for some athletes—and they become the best in their high school or college or at the professional level. And then nine times out of ten they’re pretty brand safe as someone to look up to beyond someone who just has a great swing or is a great pitcher.”
“There’s a certain amount of reverence around these athletes. Now we have more and more coverage and more highlights and routes for people to connect with them in multiple ways. Now they’re in your home and on your phone on social. There are new ways for consumers to really engage with athletes and brands really want to capitalize on that attention economy.”
Where fan affinity used to be attached to a team, and you rooted for whoever happened to play on that team, Detert says there’s now a marked shift to following players, even after they’ve moved on to another team.
“The window started to open up into the lives of the players. Social media has rewarded those that are the most personable. [Odell Beckham Jr.] is an amazing receiver, but he’s not the best receiver of all time. He’s probably the most followed receiver of all time though. Those that actually spend the time, the money and the effort to create fun, cool content have won the hearts of America.”
Angels center fielder Mike Trout, for example, has 1.9 million followers on Instagram—approximately double what the Angels have on the same platform.
“Now what we see is that fan don’t just follow a team. They’re going to follow their players,” said Detert. “If I’m a Peyton Manning fan, maybe I started rooting for the Broncos even though I’m a Colts fan.”
There’s data to back up Detert’s assertion. Influential’s data below shows that fan affinity, described as excitement and engagement, has steadily declined in each of the past five years while it has increased each year for players. In the chart below, excitement and engagement is measured by positive sentiment towards a player or team, conversation volume (how much the team or player is being discussed), and the level of liking, comment, or sharing of the team’s or player’s content.
Fan affinity has declined for MLB teams while increasing each of the last five years for playersInfluential
Evan Kaplan, managing director of MLB Players, Inc., says his organization had been trying to pull together this sort of information on its own but was coming up short. Former certified MLBPA agent and lawyer Rick Licht, who has represented baseball legends including Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Bonilla, Royce Clayton and Ernie Banks, helped bring the MLBPA and Influential together.
“That’s exactly why we’re partnering with Influential, to have access to more data. The research we’ve done so far says the same thing. If a player and a team and a league all post, the player will have the greatest engagement. It’s the authenticity. It’s that connection with a favorite player.”
“Sports have evolved. Where I grew up rooting for my favorite teams, I find that with my son, when his favorite player gets traded, his affinity moves. So, the connection between the fan and the players has evolved to the point where they want that authentic voice, and they want to hear from the players. That goes hand-in-hand with the brands that want to reinforce that those relationships.”
The shift in fan affinity is not unique to MLBInfluential
MLB players will have the opportunity to secure and execute branded campaigns with Influential’s wide range of Fortune 500 clients. Backed by IBM Watson, Influential’s AI-powered Social Intelligence technology facilitates connections with top global brands like Ford and McDonald’s.
“Brands used to come to us in the era when Chipper Jones was playing and say, ‘I want a notable player in Atlanta,’ and Chipper was notable, so we’d go and try to get a deal done,” said Kaplan. “Now, they come to us with tight demographics saying they’re trying to reach this audience or this age group. So, all this information from Influential just helps us put better partnerships together between our players and brands.”
MLB Hall of Famer Dave Winfield says he sees the value in the partnership.
“The advances in technology have put players in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing their personal brands,” said Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. “I am excited to see how current players will use Influential’s platform to connect with a wider audience and advance their business goals.”
Kaplan says MLB has been very supportive of players growing and leveraging their social platforms.
“MLB has been really good about recognizing the importance of players in improving their social. They’ve put tools out there like their partnership with Greenfly to provide access to all their game footage, clips and photographs and make it readily available for players. They want them to engage with fans because it’s one of those high tide raises all ships kind of things that elevates the sport. So, they’ve been great about promoting players and giving them tools to have greater engagement with fans.”
Influential has previously worked with the NFL and NBA, and has activated millions of dollars in name, image and likeness deals for student athletes.