Can Baseball Make It Big on Social Media?

Can baseball learn from the NBA how to take advantage of social media platforms? (via Ron Cogswell)

What can Jimmy O’Brien, baseball content creator, get away with posting on YouTube?

“I wish I knew,” he says. “We kind of operate from a dark area.”

Since 2017, O’Brien has been posting on Twitter, YouTube and (begrudgingly) Instagram under the name “Jomboy.” The name derives from an inside joke, which derives from a nickname, which derives from a group chat typo. “I was with a group of friends in college,” he says, “and our goal was to make each other laugh and point out things that the other wouldn’t notice. I moved into my girlfriend’s house with her parents and there’s no more sports fans, and I’m watching baseball games alone. So I’m like, shit, I need someone to talk to. So I took to Twitter.”

Soon after taking to Twitter, O’Brien figured he’d combine his video editing background with his baseball fandom. He began making videos with humorous analysis of Yankees-related moments. It started with breakdowns of a 2017 Yankees-Tigers brawl. Eventually, it turned into a breakdown of a group photo wherein Yankees players each stuck their thumbs down, a sarcastic gesture that had become a calling card of the team’s season. This breakdown made it all the way to the Yankees clubhouse. Suddenly, Jomboy was a big deal.

After rarely doing breakdowns last year, O’Brien started breaking down clips from games across MLB this season to staggering success. Over the past four months, he’s surpassed 100,000 views on 20-plus videos, including a breakdown of Marcus Stroman quick-pitching Marcus Semien that has eclipsed 1 million. The video features Jomboy breakdown signatures: expletive-filled, highly accurate lip readings (“I wasn’t fucking ready!”); exaggerated emotional drama; jokes at the expense of an umpire. “I like your style. Make more breakdowns,” reads a comment with around 2,000 upvotes.

O’Brien has turned the “Jomboy” imprint into “Jomboy Media,” with a website and a YouTube channel that now boasts 76,000 subscribers and counting. “It’s just been natural for the most part,” he says. O’Brien’s unsure why the algorithm has been kind to him, but he’ll gladly accept the growth. He’s got ambitions to expand Jomboy Media further and further alongside Jake, his partner-in-crime. “I’d like to somehow monetize it,” he says. “We’re having a blast, but we’re living off scraps. My goal is to get an investment or become big enough that I can go get an office somewhere, make Jake move to the east coast, and we can have an office where we have a little podcast studio and we go pump out content all the time.”

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O’Brien’s dream is not unusual of rising YouTube stars: create content, go viral, build a following and turn it into a profitable career. Many of these stars have carved out solid careers for themselves through sports commentary videos, including users like Mike Korzemba, JxmyHighroller and KTO. But despite being one of the most popular sports in the world, baseball has rarely been a topic of discussion for these channels.

The clamor has long been that the sport is “dying,” indicated particularly by its decreasing popularity amongst young people, so the comparatively feeble social media presence of the sport might not surprise you. And yet, the meteoric rise of channels like Jomboy Media and WesleyAPEX seem to indicate that there has been a sizeable untapped market for good baseball content that is now finally starting to show out on YouTube.

Baseball’s potential lack of appeal to young people has been discussed at length in the wake of this decline in popularity. Much is made of the idea that the sport is “too slow” for an attention-deficit millennial generation. Yet this same generation has popularized lengthy podcasts and hour-long YouTube drama videos comprised of beauty gurus talking to a camera with scarce editing. When young people are invested in something or someone, they’ve proven they’ll wait through hours of low-action content just for some sort of payoff. Does baseball truly need to make itself “more exciting” for them, potentially at the cost of the game’s fundamental integrity?

This ideology has driven the MLB’s philosophical understanding of its own flaws, making the game insecure about its inescapable qualities. “The pace of baseball is what makes it baseball,” says O’Brien. “We have all these youths right now that say ‘Baseball’s so slow and boring,’ because the commissioner of baseball has told them to do that. They don’t even have to watch a game, but they’ve been taught that baseball is slow and boring by the commissioner of baseball! How frustrating is that?”

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Baseball’s popularity problem may have less to do with the fundamentals of the sport itself and more to do with the way Major League Baseball has marketed it. Gary Vaynerchuk, perhaps the biggest name in social media marketing and a YouTube star himself, has stated numerous times on record that the decline in engagement comes as a result of the sport’s unwillingness to use the media tools other sports have used, instead opting for short-term financial gain. “Major League Baseball, a decade ago, decided to focus on short-term economics to the detriment of being everywhere where people are and building up their stars,” he told Sports Illustrated in a 2018 article. “You can’t find any baseball content on the internet unless the league is getting a piece of that through their accounts. Steph Curry was built on Instagram.”

What Vaynerchuk is referring to is the creation of MLB Advanced Media. In 2012, an NYConvergence piece entitled “Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media is a Hit” revealed that the company was making over $620 million a year in revenue. In 2017, the company sold a majority stake to Disney for $1.58 billion. But while it may merit acclaim for its lucrativeness, the company’s monopolizing of baseball content and intolerance for unpermitted uploads of MLB media has effectively stripped the sport of many of the marketing avenues through which basketball, soccer, and video games have flourished.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

“Because they have such a successful system within, they neglected every other social media because they have their own platform,” says O’Brien. “You couldn’t find a single MLB highlight on YouTube. There’s kids now that grew up not seeing baseball highlights for 10 years because they would have to go to MLB.com. Did you ever try to embed an MLB video back in the day? Or share it with a friend? It was, like, impossible.”

Until 2017, YouTube content like Jomboy’s would be unthinkable. And while rules are far more relaxed in 2019, there’s still no way baseball channels can monetize directly through the platform. MLB will claim and remove their videos, and after an arduous appeal process, the videos will either remain off the site or re-emerge days later with revenue split between the creator and MLB.

“MLBAM doesn’t make things too easy for us,” says Joseph Solano, another Yankees content creator who has found a following on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube under the name Joezmcfly. “All the time, they will put up copyright claims on my videos. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather not monetize, just so that I can get the content out there for the people.”

Solano is a perfect baseball fan, one that the MLB would be proud to showcase. He’s a 33-year old Dominican-American man from the Bronx who watched his first baseball game in 1994 with his father and uncle (“I was so excited!”) and from an early age knew he’d always wanted to be involved with baseball. He gives an unbridled fan’s perspective on social media, and with Instagram and Twitter, he experiences little resistance. Only on YouTube, Solano says, does he experience claims; on Twitter and Instagram, MLB’s official accounts follow him.

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When you ask baseball content creators which social media networks work best for this content, it’s hard for them to even give a straightforward answer, much less come to an agreement. “I’ve found there’s really nothing that can beat the YouTube algorithm, for better or worse,” says Bailey, a fan from Georgia who creates content under the name Foolish Baseball. (Bailey declined to offer his surname.) His “Baseball Bits” series on YouTube, which features more carefully constructed video essays focusing on a myriad of baseball subjects, has consistently brought in high engagement and acclaim from users around the world, despite his having started it with a very modest following.

“I believe I made about two Baseball Bits episodes and nothing had really happened,” says he, “and then I made that Justin Verlander video, and that’s where, all of a sudden, the channel started to pick up. I went from 800 subscribers to about 6,000 in maybe two or three weeks.”

Bailey grew up in “Braves country” during their dynastic 1990s years. He grew up playing baseball, and decided in recent years to use his audiovisual skills to create content about the sport he loves. His newfound sizeable audience consists of a variety of people — from the United States to places like Japan and various Latin American countries — who often didn’t even have a passion for baseball, but found themselves with newfound interest in the sport thanks to his videos. “I would say that hearing someone wax poetic about a subject that makes them passionate is really intoxicating,” he says, “even if it’s not something that you’d otherwise be interested in.”

O’Brien receives comments like these as well: “I get a lot of people saying ‘I don’t even like baseball, but these are funny,’” he says. In this way, these content creators, through their own artistry, passion, and personality, serve as ambassadors for the sport, within spaces that most young people flock to in droves to find content and enter communities; exactly the demographic which baseball is desperate to appeal to. Yet instead of directly incentivizing these creators to make this precious social media content, the MLB seems to force them into a tightrope act. “My account on Twitter could be suspended tomorrow and I’d have to accept it, which is incredibly scary,” says O’Brien. “‘Cause all you’re trying to do is promote the game that you love and you want other people to love as well.”

That’s not to say that strides have not been taken by MLB. Recently, O’Brien followed up with a tip he’d received from an MLB employee: “He confirmed that they made a change from their ways on YouTube and Twitter,” he says. “He also let me know that they aren’t actively going after content creators anymore and I don’t have to worry.” Indeed, there are indications that the MLB is encouraging content creators. On Foolish Baseball’s most popular video, “Justin Verlander’s Impossible Inning,” the official MLB YouTube account left a comment: “Awesome vid! Looking forward to more of these!”

“From my experiences, MLB people have been supportive,” says Bailey. “I think they’ve recognized that through my commentary and through the artwork I’ve done and the research I do, that what I’m creating is content that’s transformative, that doesn’t rip them off or threaten them in any way, but just promotes their product.”

Even though MLB is starting from behind with social media content, there is still potential for a late-inning rally. The rapid growth of baseball content creators’ platforms not only promotes the game, it also helps pave the way for new, potential creators to make their own contributions. “People that are much more established than myself and have been doing it for a few years, like GiraffeNeckMark and Fuzzy, have experienced pretty big upticks in traffic on their work in the last few months,” says Bailey. “I’m hoping that with the channel, more people are seeing me do videos and thinking ‘Hey, I’d do that.’”

And Major League Baseball could always do more if they’re willing to listen to some ideas. “Maybe an MLB content creator partner program would be a great idea down the line,” Solano tells me. In the meantime, these successful creatives can always make a bit of money by making use of their platforms. O’Brien, in addition to his plans of starting a Jomboy Media Patreon, has developed an ad partnership. In true Jomboy fashion, he works in the ads in quickly, bluntly, and humorously: “This video is brought to you by Affordablejerseys.com,” he rattles off within the first ten seconds of a video analyzing Jorge Soler’s 5th-inning ejection versus Minnesota.

***

Baseball has endured as one of the world’s most popular and important sports for over 100 years not merely because it is fun to watch, but because it transcends the game on the field. Baseball stars from the Dominican Republic have brought their home country pride and hope despite still enduring the effects of colonialism in the 21st century. Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier was a seminal moment in American civil rights history. These moments have been vital to the cultural pulse of their eras. There is no amount of money, no level of rapidization, no fastball velocity or home run distance that can save baseball if it continually refuses to tap into the culture around it.

This means more than simply producing viral YouTube videos. Baseball can boost its popularity by remaining relevant about social issues, by marketing its many exciting stars, by eliminating instances of pay-to-play at lower levels, and much more. But if you’re going to sell someone on what makes baseball great, as well as illustrate how to make baseball better, you need only look at the fans so devoted to the game that they spend countless, thankless hours every day talking about it.

“Some nights, if I’m like, tired, and I’m in a bad mood, then I don’t wanna do this,” says O’Brien. “Because it’s fun when it’s fun. It’s not fun when it’s not fun. There’s a quote.”


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CL1NT
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CL1NT

Loved this!

nvcjr1
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nvcjr1

Could not recommend FoolishBaseball’s channel enough. Deserves to be one of the most popular sports channels on YouTube

The Guru
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The Guru

thank you for writing this, ive been screaming this in my fangraphs post for over a year now trying to bring this to light. baseball is slowly dying due to the gestapo of mlbam. MLB will be passed by soccer in usa in 10 years…book it. kids get kicked off of social media for posting mlb highlights….SAD. Blacking out games is sad and killing the game too, but that is another issue. Barstool sports founder, barstool sports is the largest read sports site and listened to radio show in world, and the founder has gone on record saying he was… Read more »

bratbyt
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bratbyt

Well that raised this topic. Thank you, I, in turn, want to recommend https://expertwriter.net/mba-essay. Here from personal experts.

Jonathan Gruber-Benaich
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Jonathan Gruber-Benaich