The MLB All-Star weekend Home Run Derby had been stale for a while. Sure, there would be rounds like Josh Hamilton at Yankee Stadium or Mark McGwire at Fenway Park, but most casual fans would get bored because hitters could take pitches and there was really no time limit. The change this year not only had to help viewership, but it also helped fan engagement which is a key aspect when selling to sponsors and naming rights partners.
The old format had long waits, let downs when players hit 15 homers-plus in a round and over exerted themselves, and was just long. Watching Albert Pujols crush a ball 400-plus feet is fun, but if fans lose interest when they must wait 10 pitches between seeing the next home run.
MLB fixed that with the new format and it provides a level of certainty to everyone involved. Sponsors now know that each player will get a set amount of time at-bat. This could allow players who have deals that overlap with MLB sponsors to pitch an activation while they were at-bat. For example, Gillette, the main sponsor, benefited from the exposure, but imagine if they had a deal with Todd Frazier before the derby and could activate with him during interviews or while he was at-bat.
Manny Machado took advantage of some guerrilla marketing when during his timeout he had chips and salsa. The salsa just happened to be Manny Machado branded salsa. Gillette, the main sponsor, also benefited from the exposure. These are the types of benefits that come out of having some form of time certainty.
The engagement was impressive as well. If you were on Twitter while the derby was being televised, there were very few complaints. Some people argued against the format in the beginning. but when Todd Frazier almost hit a buzzer beater home run — he eventually won the derby in bonus time in front of his home crowd — Twitter was explosive with with excitement.
For all the criticism — right or wrong — MLB takes for not playing to the younger demographic, this was a perfect game. Time frames were shortened, excitement was heightened, and now it has a property that will be easier to sell to sponsors and its TV partner has more certainty on advertising sales. The new Home Run Derby was a big hit.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.