I love baseball. I follow my beloved New York Mets religiously (and appreciate your condolences!) and I play softball three days a week every spring and fall.
I also love Field Of Dreams. It’s an all-time favorite movie of mine that I’ve probably seen at least 50 times. In 2012, I added an extra day to an Iowa business trip just so that I could spend an afternoon playing ball on the field in Dyersville where the movie was filmed.
So when Major League Baseball announced that the White Sox and Yankees were going to play a regular season game at the site, I was hooked. Even if the game featured a match-up of teams I don’t care about and hate, respectively, the spectacle of a real major league game in an Iowa cornfield was irresistible to me.
By all accounts, the game—which took place less than two weeks ago and was broadcast nationally on FOX—was a smashing success. The FOX broadcast was widely lauded for its beautiful production values, the game itself featured a thrilling ending, and the 5.9 million people who watched it represented the biggest audience for a Major League Baseball regular season game in 16 years. The positive vibes from the event were so strong that MLB has announced that they will do it again during the 2022 season.
So why do I think there’s a problem?
It’s no secret that interest in baseball is on the decline. Participation at the youth level is down and the audience for games is getting older. Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL as America’s favorite sports league, while MMA, soccer, and eSports are generating far more interest among young people.
You may be familiar with the Pareto principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. Many businesses experience this by generating about 80% of their revenue or profits from 20% of their customers.
In radio, Nielsen Audio has repeatedly demonstrated how roughly two-thirds of the Time Spent Listening to a station comes from less than a third of its Cume audience. This has led to a focus on P1 listeners, those who listen to a station more than any other. Nielsen provides tools to stations that show how—in almost every case—stations generate most of their listening from P1s.
As a result, radio stations—and many other media outlets—correctly pay close attention to the tastes and perceptions of their P1s. However, when a brand becomes too focused on what its P1s think and want, it could miss changes that are going on with lighter and/or non-users and can end up super serving an increasingly smaller segment of the broader marketplace. Therefore, research should be carefully constructed and properly analyzed so that brands gain insights into what their core users want and perceive and how that compares with what is happening beyond their core users.
Major League Baseball’s Field Of Dreams game was perhaps the ultimate P1-focused event. For a rabid baseball fan like me—a 55-year-old white guy—it was awesome. However, I fear that it did nothing—and perhaps even hurt—the game’s ability to attract a younger, more ethnically-diverse audience. My 22-year-old son was home visiting with my wife and me when the game aired, and to my dismay, I learned that he had never even seen Field Of Dreams! (I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the 1989 film came out before he was born; fortunately, I was able to correct this omission in his movie-watching experience before his visit with us was over.)
I should be clear that I don’t think the Field Of Dreams game is necessarily a bad thing. While I fear it could reinforce attributes that prevent baseball’s lighter and non-users from consuming the game more, it could work if it is balanced with other events and efforts designed to appeal beyond baseball’s P1 audience. One way Major League Baseball is doing this is by staging games between its teams at the Little League World Series each summer, which strikes me as an excellent way to engage younger fans.
Does your radio station, podcast, or streaming service have a clear picture of what its core users want and what the broader marketplace wants? If not, you can find yourself in one of two undesirable situations—catering to an increasingly smaller group of core users or being so broad in your approach that you fail to develop a core group of heavy users. Brands that can balance the ability to attract a broad audience while also engendering loyalty from a core group of heavy users are the ones that repeatedly hit home runs.