The world is changing, and fast. It’s been changing quickly since the rise of technology, and later, the inception of social media. But now more than ever, it feels as if the habits developed in quarantine today may bleed into the way people interact with each other tomorrow. So while habits may change in the professional and personal spheres (i.e. more people working from home even after quarantine ends, or else social distancing in ways that make interaction safer moving forward), I realized that the fan-player relationship may also evolve because of (and in many ways in spite of) the barriers enforced by social distancing.
As a passionate Dodgers fan myself, I recently took part in one of the Dodgers’ Zoom Parties, which I found fascinating for a number of reasons. For starters—and as someone who only recently has had access to Spectrum— I found the Zoom webinar to be a very comprehensive way for the selected fans to see their favorite players/ members of the Dodgers organization discuss what’s going on in their lives, how they are coping with COVID-19, and so on. During a normal season, players are typically interviewed one at a time, whereas this method of interviews gave the fans a more in depth look at an entire group of present and former Dodgers stars. Additionally, famed comedian and known Dodgers fan Ken Jeong “zoom bombed” this call, providing the fans with a much needed comic relief during these trying times. Overall, I enjoyed this new avenue of fan-athlete interaction, and I even signed up for the next Dodgers Zoom Party to see a different group of Dodgers affiliates give updates on their own lives, their hopes for a potential 2020 season, and so on.
These social distancing tactics and the increased usage of consumer technology with regards to fan outreach can, in my opinion, become incredibly useful tools for when baseball eventually comes back. Even the most die hard baseball buffs know that America’s past time is having trouble connecting with the younger audience, and while players live streaming themselves competing against each other in MLB The Show can make for enjoyable viewing for the gamers out there, those of us who are more interested in the players value any time we are able to sneak an in depth look at them. Certainly more teams should (and probably will) follow suit in the Dodgers’ pursuit of bringing baseball to the living rooms of fans around the country, but I believe baseball Zoom Parties should carry on even after games start up again.
I propose that during the season, teams set aside an hour once a month so that any players who are willing to join the call can chat with each other about how their season is going, things that can be improved upon, and other talking points so that fans are given a behind the scenes look at the players’ mentality from Opening Day through the Dog Days of Summer, and leading up to the playoffs.
The idea of mic’ing up players and coaches during games (as is currently done during Spring Training and the All-Star Game) is another fun way to peel back the baseball curtain, but is probably harder to enforce in practice because games during the regular season matter and players’ focus is of the utmost importance. With that said and as baseball struggles to grasp the attention of its younger fans in the ways that football and basketball have (the NBA in particular has done an excellent job in modernizing to meet the consumer expectation and demand), it is important that MLB look into alternative methods such as these to make the fans feel compelled to tune in today’s baseball superstars.
So, what can be gleaned from this Dodgers Zoom Party I attended? For those fans who are missing baseball and feel stuck at home, it is more important now than ever before to give fans an alternative means of entertainment, so that they can avoid going down a Youtube rabbit hole of highlight reels and/or longingly scrolling through their camera rolls in search of baseball selfies. Rather, I think that all pro teams should follow the Dodgers’ lead in increasing fan outreach using healthy social distancing methods, which would give the fans something to look forward to even if things in the real world are scary and physically sitting in stands may be a ways away.
I would encourage every team to think of more tactics like Zoom webinars to keep fans engaged even during the season, so that the fans are more compelled to tune into all 162 games, as opposed to just those games leading up to—and encompassing—the playoffs. In short, MLB must continue to innovate on and off the field, and zooming with the fans is an excellent start in making the great game of baseball more entertaining for a younger audience. Zooming with my favorite Dodgers affiliates certainly brightened up my day, and I genuinely hope these efforts to modernize my favorite sport continue moving forward.
Cover Photo Credit: Dodgers Insider