I love baseball. And I loved winning our home opener.

But as a fan, I’m disappointed, frustrated, even embarrassed, about steroids in baseball.

I saw Barry Bonds play in his quest for 756 versus the Cubs at Wrigley Field last year.

Barry Bonds at Wrigley Field 071707

I’ve never heard so many people yell so lustily (mostly “cheater,” “liar” and F-bombs). Yet these same people were snapping pictures of his every move. Surreal.

Sure, baseball should survive. . . it has a long history and avid fan base, right?

Not so fast.

Fan loyalty is eroding according to a “loyalty index” developed by consumer research group Brand Keys of New York. When the steroids scandal first appeared in 2005, baseball’s loyalty index dropped to an all-time low of 91 (119 is ideal). Slowly, the numbers improved as fans began to accept the possibility that some of their heroes had used performance-enhancing drugs and by 2007, the number had moved up to 109. The Mitchell Report was released after the 2007 study, and in 2008 the number has dropped to 101. If more negative news comes out, the number will drop more as the MLB loses more long-time fans.

The areas of greatest concern in the study: authenticity, fan bonding, and history and tradition.

Ouch.

So, what would I do to fix it?

Build better bonds. Sorry. Pun intended.

But seriously, I’d recommend the MLB focus on creating a stronger bond with their core fan base. The customers that are still loyal now. The die-hard fans that buy season tickets, go to Spring training, and post on blogs. The connectors that bring friends to the games, that spend money on concessions and buy the gear. And they should make sure they include loyal fans that don’t speak English.

And that appears to be what the MLB is doing.

Go to MLB.com and take a look at some of the things that the MLB is doing to build relationships with baseball fans:

  • Mobile options, including scores, schedules, news and stats alerts for players, ringtones and more
  • Online polls
  • Fan forums
  • Ticket exchange
  • RSS feeds
  • Localized versions of it’s site in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Korean
  • Fan blogs, where you can add your baseball blog for free
  • And, of course, you can buy plenty of MLB merchandise

    Not everything is new on the site. Nor is it groundbreaking or all free. But it’s way better than the joke the MLB had a few years ago and it does give info-hungry fans the ability so save and share a lot of content.

    I’d suggest the MLB cut prices on the content they charge for or give it away for free. Make selected MLB videos excerpts available for download on YouTube and other video sharing services but charge for the whole game.

    So, what do you think the MLB should do to build better bonds with its fans?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Dan Murphy says:

    I’m not sure MLB — officially or otherwise — cares about “building bonds” with the fans (although that’s a very clever phrase). This year set yet another record for attendance at spring training, and three of the last four years of the regular season has seen new overall attendance records — despite ever-rising prices for everything from admission to parking to concessions to licensed merchandise.

    Baseball is Big Business now. Another high-powered, high-priced entertainment option that’s little different in terms of its cultural importance from some top-ticket floor show at a Las Vegas casino.

    Has baseball lost much of the magic and mythology that once connected generations of fans to the National Pastime? Absolutely. Do the owners of the Washington Nationals, for example, who enjoyed a sellout crowd at the home opener in their new $611 million stadium this week, worry about some intangible aura that baseball fans once believed enveloped their diamond heroes? No way. They’re too busy calculating all the revenue streams the new park will generate, even for a club that’s likely to finish far down in the National League standings.

    For me and millions of fans whose coming of age included the rituals of attending baseball games with our fathers, there’s a sense of loss. For the millions of kids who no longer have any clue about the joys of days spent playing “sandlot ball,” there’s a bona fide loss. But for Major League Baseball owners and management, the only “losses” they worry about are the occasional rainout that postpones yet another payday.

    And even that will become a relic of the past once the remaining cities that haven’t already done so get browbeat into forking over multi-millions in tax revenues to fund another retractable-roof palace for their very own friendly, neighborhood billionaire owner.

    Responsibility? To the fans? Are you kidding me? MLB — as well as every other pro sports enterprise — could care less about its responsibility to anything other than the black ink they use to calculate their bottom lines.

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