How Home Run Derby X is taking MLB to global fans | News

MLB unveiled a new format of baseball to London-based fans last month, showing the inaugural Home Run Derby X to over 11,000 fans in Crystal Palace park.

Inspired by the MLB All Star Home Run Derby, Home Run Derby X has been specially developed to attract new audiences, and specifically fans who may not have watched before, to the game. The format sees four teams representing the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees battle it out in preliminary games before a grand final. Each team includes an MLB Legend, a Superstar, a Rookie and Wild Card, recruited from both men and women and including a local hero from wherever it is being played.

The game is optimised for big hitting and crowd pleasing moments, with interactive baseball-inspired activities, ballpark food, live music, MLB merchandise stores and more to create an engaging live experience. It is also much quicker than the average game of baseball, and features big screens and other eye-catching technology to draw viewers in.

MLB baseball Home Run Derby X (3)

The format wasn’t only be a hit with those at the park, 1.2 million tuned into the live stream on MLB’s YouTube channel, where Emma Saunders and Josh Denzel were presenting the action. In addition, 6.9 million viewed event content on MLB social channels, and, of particular interest to the organisers, 77% of the TikTok audience for the final were non-followers of MLB.

After the Crystal Palace event, MLB senior director for growth and strategy, EMEA, Kelhem Salter, spoke to Broadcast Sport alongside Jiri Bures, executive creative director at Imagination – which helped MLB in creating Home Run Derby X – about what this all means for the sport.

Kelhem Salter MLB

Salter explained the thought process behind the new format: “We sell a huge amount of merchandise in Europe, in particular caps. You walk down any street in London, you’ll see people wearing Yankees caps, Red Sox, LA Dodgers caps. A lot of those people are not currently baseball fans. They buy our brands because our brands also have a greater resonance beyond sport in terms of the fashion community, and they feature prominently in film and music.

“They’re not definitely baseball fans, but they may well be sports fans. Our job is to find ways of connecting with these significant numbers of people who already have a link to our brands and to our sport and to our teams, but don’t definitely have the experience of what sits behind those marks.”

He added: “What we need to do is find kind of what are these interesting hooks to reach out and connect with these people in more deep and meaningful ways, and we feel that new sporting formats like Home Run Derby X are a really significant asset in that effort.”

Jiri Bures Imagination

Bures expanded on the idea to bring music and food into the mix: “There is already a cultural connection, and it’s almost regardless of the baseball. So for us to really bring those cities to life, and the teams with it, was a real reliable introduction to the sport, we didn’t have to force anything.”

Bringing fans into the game was designed into the format, with a ‘catching zone’ at the match and more, Bures explained: “We’ve been really conscious about making this really engaging and memorable. So fans who turned up on the day feel as if they played an active role in the sport. That’s probably baseball’s advantage – we can hit baseballs into the crowd, people come with their catching mitts. It’s really electric in the catch zone, like the energy in there is insane.”

MLB baseball Home Run Derby X (5)

Over 500 baseballs were hit into the crowd and taken home by fans, giving some a memento of the day.

When it came to the broadcast numbers mentioned above, especially with TikTok, Salter said: “That is precisely what we were trying to achieve in terms of reaching out and engaging with that new audience. It was absolutely designed with broadcast in mind – keep it quick, keep it snappy, keep the games short, and have multiple discrete games over the course of a day so people can dip in and out and there’s always something going on.”

The TikTok live stream was only available for the final, and, with fans on the platform asking for where they could see more, this is something they may move earlier in the competition next time round. The stream had its own production, with a split screen showing the game in half and a pair of TikTok influencers in the other half, who were commenting more than commentating – during a ‘hot streak’ in the game they ate a series of chillies with increasing heat.

MLB baseball Home Run Derby X (2)

Once new fans are drawn in by Home Run Derby X, there is hope that they can then become interested in the more traditional game. Salter revealed: “Long term, it’s certainly a channel to get people in. A full three-and-a-half hour game is quite a difficult starting point for someone with no history of growing up in the sport. The idea with Home Run Derby X is showcasing the best that our sport has to offer, both from a sporting point of view and a cultural one.

“Once they’re in, we hope to grow that relationship and that they continue to grow as fans of the sport. That they connect with a team and become a fully fledged MLB fan.”

MLB baseball Home Run Derby X (4)

In the UK, fans can of Home Run Derby X could move on to watch MLB games that streamed on Facebook, although most of the sport is currently behind a paywall with BT Sport and Also, restarting from next year, there will be MLB matches played in London, and Salter confirmed that these will be cross-promoted to Home Run Derby X fans while admitting, “This is a long term commitment. It may be that in year one, for the conversion rate from Home Run Derby X first times, it may be that next summer is too soon for them to go from zero to 100.”

However, before that, Home Run Derby X goes to more traditional baseball heartlands next, with Seoul the next stop on 17 September before Mexico City on 15 October. There is sure to be plenty of interest in how it continues to perform.

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