As MLB stars compete for World Series home field advantage, MLB league executives are battling another competition this All-Star Game: Driving female interest and fandom in MLB.
In the last year, MLB has executed a strategy aimed heavily on reaching a wider female audience of all ages. During the Midsummer Classic, the depth and contours of the strategy have unfolded.
On its face, MLB’s strategy to attract more female fans is built in media and grassroots endeavors. Earlier this year, sport broadcaster, Jessica Mendoza, made history when she became the first regular female analyst on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Subsequent to Mendoza’s promotion, Fox released a trailer for a new series, Pitch, based around the fictional story of a young woman breaking baseball’s gender barrier.
Pitch is the brainchild of Hollywood veteran, Dan Fogelman, who has worked as a producer and director and most notably, wrote Pixar’s Cars films. Pitch marks Fogelman’s first foray into sports, but the rookie hit it big when MLB partnered with him on the series. The partnership resulted in Fox and Fogelman not only gaining a MLB trademark licensing coup, but access to top executives and players as consultants who can ensure the show’s authenticity.
For now, Pitch is an inspirational and engaging series that will be played out on the small screen. The question, though, is how far from reality is the day when a female MLB player takes the field?
One must assume that MLB’s willingness to partner with Pitch to produce an authentic television series signals the league’s interest in the possibility of developing female talent to MLB levels. Beyond the small screen, though, MLB’s recent grassroots efforts demonstrate further interest in developing female talent.
The events surrounding this year’s All-Star Game are markedly different than past years’, in that MLB is engaging in greater female-specific initiatives. For instance, as part of its $5 million commitment to build and restore fields during the All-Star break, MLB renovated its first softball-specific field project. Beyond that, for the first time, the league’s All-Star Youth Classic featured an all-girls team competing in a field of eleven boys’ teams.
The question for MLB, though, is whether these initiatives will attract a wider female audience. MLB’s need for a greater female fan base is apparent, with a 2013 Nielsen report finding that 70-percent of baseball’s fans are male. Beyond that, appealing to younger female fans is another approach the league must take, with that same report finding the majority of MLB fans to be over 50-years-old.
MLB’s media and grassroots efforts are clear attempts to appeal to a younger generation. Is there another area, though, by which MLB can up its strategy to appeal to a wider female fan base?
One idea that MLB may want to explore, is providing greater visibility to its female on-field employees. While much attention has been paid to the San Antonio Spurs’, Becky Hammon’s, coaching role and the Arizona Cardinals hiring Jen Welter as a coaching intern, MLB’s female coaches have largely flown under the radar. In 2015, the Oakland A’s hired Justine Siegal as a guest instructor, making her the first female coach in MLB history. Cecilia Clark works as the Indians’ performance coach and there are seven other women working as instructors and trainers in MLB and MiLB.
Watching Pitch on Thursday nights this fall will likely open some girls’ eyes to the possibility of someday playing baseball at the highest level. However, on fields across America, MLB can shine the light on female coaches who have already broken the barrier and are working in their sport’s most prestigious league.
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