With baseball in it's final series of 2009 I wanted to share some of my thoughts on baseball, branding and social media, thoughts that have been brewing for a while. I currently live in Washington, D.C., a plane ride away from my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, and within driving distance of the two teams with the worst records in baseball this past season, the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals respectively. They both lost a lot of games this year (98 and 103) which only makes me miss my hometown Cubbies even more but let's not forget they have been nothing less than disappointing for over a century. Even in 2003, where I was five outs away from doing Wrigley Field victory dance by heading to the World Series they found a way to break my heart. But every season, I still come back with even more resilience that it could be the Cubs year.
That said, due to my social technology and media background (my baseball skills probably didn't hurt either), I was invited to meet with the Washington Nationals executives last month at Nationals Park. I was honored to do so and in meeting with Stan Kasten, Bob Wolfe and others I realized that they are just a three year old start-up that spun out of what was the Montreal Expos organization. Call me an optimist but I think they have an almost clean slate, branding-wise, that offers them a huge opportunity to create a strong following both online and off.
The social technologies and tools are available for anyone with a passion to create a fan base and follow and engage with those fans real-time. How does a baseball team do such a thing? Well they need to engage and listen to every person who buys a ticket or comes out to the ballpark or watches or listens to a game. Does that sound like a pretty huge task at hand? Or does it sound like common sense? If you think it sounds like common sense then you probably know a little something about the tools that are out there today. If you are left shaking your head at the huge task at hand then I will be the first to admit you are right. It is a huge task! But if you want to win in this day and age then you need to show people that you care by listening to your fans, followers and customers.
Another point I was sure to bring up to the Nationals was their overall branding. As a Cubs, fan it took me a good three years to finally decide I could let a second baseball team into my life. After making that commitment I decided it was time to purchase a baseball cap to show my support for my new favorite local team. So I did a little research and found that most of the Washington Nationals hats sported a big old "W" that reminded me of the Walgreens logo. That said, I was not interested in sporting one, so I kept looking and finally found a DC hat that worked for me - a simple Navy blue cap with the "DC" logo on it. This makes a lot sense. It shares that I am from DC, which is how people generally communicate they live in Washington, D.C. even if they live in Virginia or some of the surrounding areas. So my point here is that when you want to brand a team or logo or anything, be sure that the image or logo sells itself. In this case the DC version of the hat doubles as a great Washington, DC souvenir and could act as a great walking billboard for the Nationals baseball team.
Obviously, it helps if the team plays well on the field but even if they are not there are teams that have made themselves very successful by creating an experience that is worth spending time with regardless of the outcome of the game. So I definitely think that the Washington Nationals could capitalize by looking at every detail related to the Nats experience in the Capitol City (and online) and making it one that fans want to repeat all summer long - win, lose or rain out. Go Nats!