Log me into the ball game
I still remember that first encounter in a hotel room on another continent more as if it were yesterday. I was a stroppy pre-teen on our first family trip to the USA, and the olds had gone down to the pool with my little brother. I was left in the room to amuse myself.
I knew better than to access any of the ‘special entertainment’ films on the TV, so instead set off on road trip around the fiesta of channels. And that’s when it happened. I saw something that would re-wire the normal passions and desires of a 9-year-old for good. I found baseball.
Over the next 25 years, that first illicit encounter turned into an enduring long-distance love affair. Sure, I was thousands of miles away, but we kept in touch. It was tough, and there were times when I questioned if we could ever truly fulfil our potential through subscriptions to US sports magazines and day-old scores in the UK national newspapers.
But just as I thought about taking a break, and start seeing other sports, along came the Internet and instantly the pizzazz was back in our relationship. We could still only see one another in person every year or two if we were lucky, but at least now there was regular contact and we got to know each other on a whole different level.
Facebook’s arrival has made things really interesting. We’ve enjoyed a richer relationship than ever for the past couple of seasons with live games broadcast on ESPN America (for which I give daily thanks yet still retain irrational fear that in a dark little office somewhere, someone is going to cancel the contract and sever our contact). But the little comments here, a picture shared there in social media has given our relationship a new dimension. There’s a new intimacy.
This week, Facebook introduced game video onto the site. Not just the tease of a couple of minutes of highlights, but full-on live games streamed, for free. OK, we’re only talking spring training games, but it’s there.
Baseball is unashamedly using the power of social media, and video content in particular, to start new relationships with others across the world. And I don’t mind. I want it to. It’s good to see other people, for more to experience everything this complex and beautiful sport has to offer.
It’s only video. It’s only Facebook. But it’s going to build millions of new relationships for baseball brands. I’m cool with that (and it would be even better if the Rays win the World Series).