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Lessons from MLB’s Truncated Season

by Pharra Perry

Usually around this time of year, we’re beginning to close out the first half of the baseball season and are heading into MLB’s All-Star break. However, we have not seen a single pitch thrown in a regulation game as the season’s start was delayed earlier this year.

Worry no more sports fans! The MLB has just reached a decision to allow for a much shorter 60-game season with players reporting for spring training July 1 and the official season kicking off later in the month. Baseball will be the first professional sport to return in the States.

The MLB’s attempt to give fans a season, albeit vastly shorter than usual, is something to take careful note of as it is an interesting case study in how communicators can still provide fans with some sort of a version of the “real” thing or a special experience. Since March, when most professional sports were brought to a grinding halt, the MLB along with other professional sports leagues has been actively working to figure out how to enhance the 2020 sports experience for both players and fans. Every idea from truncated seasons to expanding the number of postseason teams to including sponsorship patches on uniforms to even mic’ing players to enhance the at-home viewing experience and kill the accompanying dead sound of playing in empty stadiums has been pitched (excuse the pun). It’s fascinating to see how the various ideas take into account the clear anomalies of this season, but are striving to still provide fans with a memorable experience rooted in familiarity.

When You’re Thrown A Curveball…

As communicators, the key takeaway here is that there is still a way to provide fans with an experience. It’s all about adapting to the cultural shifts, listening, and figuring out how to leverage the limitations for good. Make the limitations work for you, not against. What can be done to provide fans with an experience even if it’s unconventional? How can you adapt to enhance the experience or develop something entirely new?

While the experience may not be exactly what audiences are accustomed to, the reality is people are way more receptive and understanding about not getting the real deal at the moment. After all, it’s better than nothing. Sports in particular serve as a welcome reprieve for many from the mundanities of life. And right now, life can be pretty mundane, particularly if you’re like me and have completely blasted through all of your streaming services and are starved for new content.

It’s Not Bad to Be Different

When sports do finally return, it will certainly be different than what we’ve grown accustomed to, but it’s important to remember that different doesn’t always equate to bad. In a way, this is an exciting time because it is way more forgiving toward experimentation. The “quality rubric” doesn’t exist because we haven’t yet made it. We want to see and understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s unclear at this stage if fans will be allowed into stadiums to watch games. Who knows? We may even see a few games played in complete silence, collectively decide it’s a terrible experience, and then suddenly fill a game with fan cheers and jeers via an app, similar to what is currently being tested in Japan. Embrace the challenge.

Batter Up!

No matter what this MLB season shapes up to be, it will certainly be a memorable one. Take careful note of how the league overcomes the challenges of the season and think about how those strategies can be implemented internally. At the end of the day, all people are really looking for is a good game.

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