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Major League Baseball’s social media initiative a home run

Baseball and spring have always been synonymous. Here’s another one in the making: Major League Baseball and social media.

MLB has been a frontrunner when it comes to new media. The league set the standard for online development when it consolidated the websites and online video operations for all of its teams.

It was announced last week that At Bat, which allows fans to access live audio and video streams, is the App Store’s top-selling app of all time.

This year, as another season gets underway, MLB continues to grow its new media reach. The league launched two more apps this year and now boasts four of the top 10 apps for the iPhone.

The league continues to innovate. Here’s a rundown of their apps (descriptions courtesy of PR Newswire):

  • At the Ballpark – This in-ballpark app allows fans to personalize their trips to any of the 30 Major League ballparks. Fans can check-in to get exclusive offers and rewards as well as social media, maps, concession menus and mobile food ordering in select ballparks. It also features a check-in history which tracks games attended, ballparks visited and team wins.
  • Full Count – A single app for iPhone and iPad that delivers live Major League Baseball video streaming content channels, including the daily live offering of live look-ins and highlights from every game produced.
  • Beat the Streak – The app allows fantasy baseball players to manage their daily picks on-the-go as they strive to best baseball’s all-time consecutive games hitting streak and claim its $5.6 million grand prize. New ways to play were added this year, including Double Down and Facebook Connect, and the app is being played by hundreds of thousands of users per day.
  • At Bat –The original MLB app off to a record-setting start this season with fans accessing over 800,000 live audio and video streams on average per day.

MLB also continues to grow its social media presence. The league has launched Pinterest and Tumblr accounts for all 30 teams. Some teams, such as the Boston Red Sox, have launched Spanish-language Twitter accounts. With more than 10 Spanish-speaking players on the team, it’s a smart move to reach out to the many Hispanic fans following the team.

On Opening Day, Mashable’s Sam Laird reports the league introduced designated social media-savvy “real-time correspondents” for all 30 of its ballparks to provide on-the-ground updates and content.

The league is also not shy about spending money on a good idea. The league is bringing back its successful “Fan Cave” concept for a bigger and better second season.

“The new season marks the second year of the MLB Fan Cave, a 15,000 square-foot space housed in a former Tower Records store in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood,” The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch reported.

“The Fan Cave is where nine people will try to watch all 2,430 regular-season games, while talking about the action online. But it’s much more than that; it’s a television studio, a concert venue and a tourist spot, as well as a living advertisement for the sport.”

All of the leagues new media venture is generating lots of attention. Mashable’s Laird reported on which teams were the most dominant on social media:  “The social media agency Banyan Branch spent the offseason from October through March collecting Twitter and Facebook data to see who dominates baseball’s digital conversation.

“Not surprisingly, the agency found that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox — high profile teams in major East Coast markets — rank highest in online popularity. The Yankees have nearly six million followers and fans on Facebook and Twitter, while the BoSox come in second with almost four million. The Philadelphia Phillies, however, have the most Twitter followers with around 680,000.

“Which teams are most active on Twitter? The San Francisco Giants lead the league with 18,000 all-time tweets. The Seattle Mariners come in second with 16,000 posts and the Toronto Blue Jays third at 13,000.”

 More does not always mean better, as the website Digiday reported when it analyzed the social media offerings of the Yankees and the Red Sox. The author – a self-described Yankees fan, gives the edge to the Red Sox because of their better engagement with the fans.

Even though the league centralizes much of the new media efforts, individual teams have room to be creative. The Cleveland Indians were an early innovator, encouraging bloggers and local social media users to come to the game and work from a social media section.

This year, the team has introduced a social media suite.  According to its website, “the Indians Social Suite is a one-of-a-kind social media experience providing attendees both stunning views of the on-field action and the ability to network in their own private, Wi-Fi enabled suite.” Fans must fill out an application – I assume having a large Twitter following will help your cause – for a chance to participate in what the Indians call the “first interactive Major League ballpark experience.”

At least one news organization, the Orange County Register, decided to jump on the baseball and social media bandwagon. The paper created a “news mob” and literally swarmed the Angels’ home opener and blanketed the game with nonstop social media coverage.

“About 70 journalists participating in the Register’s first-ever “news mob” swarmed the stadium, parking lot, Anaheim Convention Center, sports bars and anywhere else connected to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday to celebrate opening weekend of the Los Angeles Angels’ most anticipated season in its 51-year history,” Eric Morgan wrote on the paper’s website.

A different editor gave some different numbers, but what’s a couple dozen reporters when you are swarming one of 162 games the Angels will play? (and, as a former newspaper guy, it’s good to see there is still a newsroom out there that has at least 91 staffers to deploy on an event):

How did the Orange County Register’s “News Mob” at last Friday’s Angels opening game go? Angels editor Keith Sharon gives Romenesko readers this report:

The News Mob by the numbers (final):

  • 91 reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, designers, videographers, bloggers and miscellaneous Register and Freedom employees
  • 56 stories (5 of them with multiple live updates)
  • 845 photographs either taken live or posted by the Register on April 6.
  • 88 submissions of photos and stories by Angels (and non-Angels) fans
  • 156 new signups for the OCRegister mobile app (downloaded and opened)
  • 24 percent increase in mobile app visits that day
  • 27,000: the number of references found with the Google search: Orange County Angels News Mob.
  • 1,218 percent increase in Angels page views from Opening Day 2011 to Opening Day 2012

As other leagues, such as the NFL, focus on rules to ban players from using Twitter around game time, MLB is demonstrating how a league can prosper if it endorses new media. And the Register news operation has shown that strong digital attention on a popular event can yield strong results.

Ronnie Ramos is the managing director of digital communications for the NCAA. Before that, he spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, splitting his time between news and sports at five newspapers, including The Miami Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter.

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