It is here again with very little notice, starting on Friday the 17th and going into NBA All-Star Weekend, while both last weekend and next weekend remain open for possibilities. The official start of college baseball season. While most media outlets are closely following every pitch and move prior to the official opening of spring training next week, the start of college goes by the boards without much of a flurry of activity. While most eastern teams will head to Florida, Texas and Arizona for short trips over the next few weeks, the opportunity for brands looking to embrace or at least try and get a feel for activation in college athletics through baseball remains very high. This we actually saw a push, just a bit, as am #openingday hashtag made its way around Friday, and the expanded efforts in streaming (Lacrosse had a landmark weekend last week, why can’t college baseball?) and self-created media , along with some of the talked about rule changes for shortening the game, also play well in NCAA baseball favor. Still, there is a great deal of basic opportunity out there. For all the buzz college eSports is getting; college baseball is a mature, quantifiable and stable opportunity with legs beyond just a game; alumni, kids and parents.
The spring for the college market is devoid of football and hoops after March Madness subsides, and is a time of year which is crying out for a way to activate with the audience as students head back home for the summer and have time on their hands as they prep for exams and have less classes. The weather is nicer, more students are outside, so why has no one embraced the opportunity for college baseball. Some may say that the weather is a hindrance in the Northeast and that schools outside of the Sun Belt put little to no marketing and sales time behind baseball.
Games are played in afternoons and crowds and facilities are sparse. Yet the interest in baseball overall at this time of year is at its highest, and the amount of schools that do play baseball on all level, junior colleges included, is still very high in comparison to other spectator sports. Could a brand find a way to create a college opening day and activate around that program on campuses around the country or maybe a college baseball opening weekend? Maybe the program is tied to telling the stories of the student-athletes and encompasses college softball as well. The activation could also be less about attendance at games and more of an experiential event on campus which keeps even casual sports fans engaged through the baseball program.
Maybe the program can also tie to an overall opening day with Little League and softball in a community, and rally the sport itself through the college experience. Colleges put a great deal of time through to drive revenue through football in the fall and basketball through the winter, it would make sense to tie and give added values to brands with a spring activation as well. College baseball is competitive, provides a good wrap-up to a marketing plan, and is extremely affordable for brands to activate against with athletes that would welcome the exposure. There is also a great opportunity for charities or philanthropic efforts to tie to college baseball in the spring, much like programs are laid out for other sports in other seasons. Also keep in mind that most programs now play extensive fall ball seasons, so there is no reason why an activation program could now also have some ties into the next semester as well.
College baseball is in no way the activation giant that football and hoops is, even at its highest levels in the south and the west. Lacrosse seems to have become the favored nation outdoor sport of the spring, but MLB has the marketing ability to help propel one of its prime sources for talent forward. College baseball is a large scale activity that fans can identify with, a breeding ground for the future of the sport. and if marketed properly and cost efficiently remains one of the few mainstream spectator sports on the collegiate level with little barrier to entry.
There are ongoing talks that MLB will connect with the NCAA to give college baseball a boost, helping with much needed equipment changes that would put wood bats back in the hands of those players getting ready to make the jump to the minors, looking to help with marketing and speeding up the game with some rule changes, and even boosting interest between baseball’s draft and the NCAA tournament in the late spring. However much of that is still yet to be hashed out. In the meantime, pitchers and catchers in gyms and on fields at hundreds of schools have taken to the diamond, with hundreds of games to come. For brands looking to boost their intercollegiate activation they need to look no further than the diamond. The balls are in the air.