By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
July 12, 2013
Doesn’t it seem like we were just here?
A scant five years after old Yankee Stadium held Major League Baseball’s Midsummer Classic in 2008—that building’s last, grand hurrah—it’s once again up to you, New York, New York to show the sporting world a smashing good time, as always seems to happen during MLB’s annual All Star Break.
This year, hosting honors go to the New York Mets—the MLB team that’s gone the longest period without hosting since their sole turn in 1964, and hasn’t made the postseason since 2006. But for foodie fans like us, there’s no better place to take in a ballgame that Citi Field—how can you top a yard that has its very own Shake Shack? (We know, San Francisco, we’ll continue this argument at a time to be named later.)
From Saturday’s fan fest and all star charity concert in Central Park to Monday’s Home Run Derby, to a public wiffle ballpark in Midtown (courtesy of the game’s broadcaster, FOX) and a whole series of do-good projects held in conjunction with the game, including building a public schoolyard in Brooklyn and donations to the Wheelchair Sports Federation and Coney Island Hospital, the 2013 MLB All-Star Break promises something for everyone, even when the quality of play on the field is lacking intensity.
What’s always intense is the ever-escalating technology each new season presents. The Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman and Blue Jays pitcher Steve Delabar will be at Citi Field courtesy of the All Star Game’s “Final Vote,” in which baseball fans around the world turned in an unprecedented 79.2 million digital votes, surpassing the prior high-mark of 68.6 million set in 2009. 10.2 million of those votes were cast via text messaging this time around.
The five year-old MLBAM At Bat app has reached 7.1 million downloads in 2013, surpassing last year’s full-season total and setting a new company record. According to MLBAM executives, At Bat has been downloaded 21 million times, accessed 1.5 billion times, and delivered 1.8 billion minutes of live video.
Yeah, L.A. Dodger hotshot Yasiel Puig was dissed by the All-Star voters. But don’t blame that completely on the WiFi installation project going on at Dodgers Stadium. Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten told the L.A. Daily News that the project has been "thorniest of all our renovations," but these days it’s a downright necessity, as the S.F. Giants have shown. The slumping Giants "had at least one player among the top four at every infield position" in All-Star voting, after three Giants were voted to start the All-Star Game last year, which "not coincidentally...was the first year full wi-fi capabilities were unleashed at AT&T Park." Giants Senior Vice President and CIO Bill Schlough sees the Dodgers’ current woes as “incredibly challenging. But every stadium has to do it. To us, it’s the cost of doing business today.”
Rare is the sports partnership that helps improve a team’s business efficiency internally, while also helping enhance the fan experience. Yet that’s exactly what the Dodgers’ deal with Citrix, makers of GoToMeeting, has done. Each month during the season, fans have had the opportunity to win a Citrix videoconference with a Dodger legend, such as Steve Garvey, Steve Yeager, and Ron Cey.
While the Dodgers last year began using Citrix GoToMeeting with HD Faces for videoconferencing, this season, they’re leveraging the software to give Dodgers fans a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Technology companies are harnessing the All-Star Game as a marketing springboard as well.
Telecomm brand T-Mobile, in its first year as an MLB sponsor, is using All-Star Break events to help launch a series of new technology, pricing, and packaging initiatives that the company is calling "Our Boldest Moves Yet." Initiatives announced including expanding its 4G LTE network to cover 157 million people in 116 metro areas; JUMP (Just Upgrade My Phone), a streamlined program allowing more phone upgrades up to twice a year; and a new four-line family plan, priced at $100 monthly.
During the All-Star Break, T-Mobile has will run three new ads along with a live, branded in-game feature. The cell phone carrier hopes to use the time for an interview with one of its four MLB endorsers (Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, Nationals Bryce Harper, and Pirates Andrew McCutchen) to illustrate that they have "made the jump" to being an All-Star.
FOX is also using its All-Star Game broadcast to premiere a new 90-second ad featuring high-profile athletes promoting the August 17 launch of Fox Sports 1. The rap-driven ad, which will air during the fifth inning" of Fox’ broadcast, was shot at six iconic sports venues over 10 days and includes Tigers Miguel Cabrera, 49ers Patrick Willis, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, and U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan.
The All-Star Break will be haunted by the specter of mass suspensions likely to be handed down in its aftermath by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, for players found to have a connection to performance-enhancing drugs sold by the Florida-based Biogenesis Clinic. At least four players on All-Star rosters have been linked to MLB’s investigation of the clinic, presenting the very real possibility that the athletes will be celebrated for their achievements one week and cast down the next.
But baseball’s real specters won’t show up until July 27, when the Baseball Hall of Fame holds its annual induction ceremonies. While MLB is holding “one of the most star-studded induction ceremonies in its history," as the Wall Street Journal put it, they are expecting fewer than half of the 20,000 fans that showed up last year. Why? For the first time since 1960, there are no living inductees, giving the Cooperstown a Field of Dreams-esque “all ghost class.”