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Major League Baseball, Instant Replay and Technology-Empowered Fans

August 18, 2013

Major League Baseball (MLB) announced plans this past week to aggressively institute instant replay for its ballgames beginning in the 2014 season. The plan, which does not include instant replay for balls and strikes, covers most other plays during a game. It is expected to be overwhelmingly approved by owners, and it is long overdue.

For the first time, MLB is showing that it understands just how significantly technology has changed its market and the market it so desperately needs to attract–Millennials. For the first time, its commissioner is not talking about human error being part of baseball. Now it’s all about using technology to get the call right. It’s now about MLB being relevant, which means this is about the MLB brand.

Don’t underestimate the significance of this move. One of our most iconic brands in the USA–one that is all about tradition–is pushing aside arguments from baseball purists to institute a state of the art instant replay system. Finally, MLB is paying attention to technology-empowered sports fans who have long thought that the MLB is out of touch with the times.

If you’re still asking why this change is an absolute necessity for the sport, I wrote about it back in 2009, offering my perspective on why MLB needed to be adjusting to the technology-empowered consumer. As I write and speak to marketing and enrollment audiences, and to those on my own campus, I’m finding that the message is still pertinent today.

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Adjusting to the Technology Empowered Consumer and Student (edited)
November 1, 2009

Late at night last July, I was with my Millennial son when he stopped at a gas station to fill up. As he got out of his car, a supposedly down on his luck stranger approached him and asked for some money for gas. Deciding to pump a couple of gallons of gas in the guy’s car, he put his ATM/credit card into the gas pump. But nothing happened. He then gave him a couple of bucks, but the guy looked suspicious and wasn’t either pumping the gas or leaving the station.

Concerned that his credit card may be vulnerable, I watched my son, in about 5 minutes time, use his BlackBerry to go online with his bank, transfer all money out of vulnerable accounts, cancel the card and order a new one. It was amazing to watch him do all of that so quickly. It was fascinating to watch a digital native at work.

Umpire calls runner safe

Fast forward to the World Series. After instant replay had exposed terrible performances by Major League Baseball umpires during the playoffs, technology again points out glaring mistakes by umpires in the World Series. Asked about implementing instant replay to correct mistakes, Commissioner Bud Selig, says, “Yes, we had some incidents that certainly need to be looked at…But do I believe in instant replay? No, I do not. Human Error is part of our sport.”

Amazing. While this statement could have been stated 30 or 40 years ago without controversy, it’s simply an unacceptable statement today. And the audience baseball isn’t reaching–the under-35 market–isn’t buying it. It may sound right to Selig, but it doesn’t ring true for any brand in today’s market–you’re not going to get it right when you have the ability to do so?

It’s not just that those umpiring mistakes become viral, it’s that the world is different now. We are changing. Or more accurately said, those of us who are not digital natives are changing. Digital natives aren’t changing. They are by definition, connected.

While Selig and others may see technology as an add-on to life as usual, technology is becoming a way of life. It is changing how life is experienced.

All of us make mistakes, just like major league umpires. But when you’re responsible for marketing strategy, don’t pull a Bud Selig and underestimate the significant sea changes happening in the marketing environment that impact your ability to connect with your students, constituents and communities.

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