MLB’s 2020 ‘Field of Dreams’ Game Is Great Sports Marketing

The lead item on Media Post’s August 13, 2019 Marketing Insider, is SLRG President Jon Last’s take on how the recently announced MLB Field of Dreams Game is a great example of effective sports marketing.

Research shows lack of access to athletes and events can adversely affect sports fan engagement. Last month I spoke to how so much of digital innovation these days is built around bridging those gaps. Creating immersive experiences that put fans into the action or creating virtual environments may evoke an intimacy that has often abated as sports has become more about the biggest stages and athletes have been anointed as unapproachable superheroes or demi-gods.

Last week, Major League Baseball announced that a year from now, a game will be played between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox on the actual “Field of Dreams” farm site in Iowa, immortalized in the 1989 Kevin Costner movie of the same name. Initial ticket demand and reaction have both been quite positive. The concept checks the box for both creativity and broader cultural relevance, in lockstep with MLB’s efforts to reach more broadly into audiences that it doesn’t always directly connect with.

But the concept also makes sense by drawing perfectly from what research for individual teams and sports properties has shown: An added level of intimate access coupled with an innovative yet authentic extension of the core brand can elevate the resonance of a sports marketing activation.

Like MLB’s annual Williamsport game played in conjunction with the Little League World Series and the 2016 Marlins vs. Braves game at Fort Bragg, these games draw upon baseball’s historical positioning as “America’s game” while exposing the sport at its highest level to parts of the country that previously have not had access.

Consistent with this finding, the impact of taking a big event like the Field of Dreams Game out into America’s heartland, literally and figuratively demonstrate that MLB is making an effort to connect with fans in their own comfortable environment.

We’ve seen similarly effective types of local outreach during various sports’ off seasons, where several MLB teams host fan fests for prospective ticket buyers, and NFL teams have gone on regional bus caravans, replete with mascots, coaches and players.

The Field of Dreams timing in mid-August occupies a place in the calendar typically void of other major sports competitions, but should also further evoke a nostalgic piece of the final weeks of summer in America that can reinforce MLB’s differentiated positioning. And the limited number of tickets available adds an elusiveness to the proceedings consistent with two recent non-baseball related studies that drew insights on those elements that make a particular event special and personally relevant. The Field of Dreams Game’s combination of exclusivity and intimacy follows that road map.