By Barry Janoff
April 1, 2013: The 2013 MLB season opened this week. And with it came the 2013 version of the MLB Fan Cave, located in New York (lower Manhattan at Broadway and 4th) and operating under the auspices of MLB Advanced Media. This year, inhabitants representing nine MLB teams will watch every regular season game — 2,430 — on a bank of Sony HDTV's while also interacting via social media with fans and interacting in person with celebrities, musicians and athletes, who will add to the total of more than 400 special guests who have been to the Fan Cave since it opened in 2011.
New this year is Mission Control, a giant panel that has 30 Android tablet screens (designed and overseen by self-described physical-digital interactive firm Breakfast, based in New York), one in each MLB ballpark. The screens monitor in-stadium action, social media hits and weather conditions. Meters on the big board will record on-going totals in such categories as home runs and strikeouts. A center-screen fan-cam will enable people in the Fan Cave to converse with fans in each stadium.
Social media is also beng used to drive a competition that will see all 30 MLB teams seeking to find a "super fan," a number that ultimately be whittled down to one fane who will spend time in the Fan Cave when their respective home team plays in New York against either the Mets or Yankees.
Other additions this year are a Cave Art section that will display works from a variety of artists throughout the season, with Thierry "Mr. Brainwash" Guetta up first; and Fan Cave University, which will feature a series of guest lecturers speaking on topics ranging from art to science.
There also is a decidedly low-tech atmosphere in the Fan Cave, including a pin ball machine, an arcade machine that includes Pac Man, giant chess pieces that can be used on a huge chess board carpet, a two-story high slide, a pool table and Skee-Ball.
Upcoming events include support for the release on April 12 of 42, the bio-pic about Jackie Robinson; special events for Jackie Robinson Day on April 15; and activation around the All-Star Game in July, which this year will be played in New York at Citi Field, home of the Mets. MLB also anticipates that baseball-themed commercials will agaiin be shot there. Among those filmed last season were Stand Up To Cancer and spots for MLB and MLB.com.
More than 50 companies have products or services in the Fan Cave, including such MLB partners as Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), T-Mobile, Sony, New Era and Scotts.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Tim Brosnan, evp-business for Major League Baseball, about the 2013 MLB season and the social media marketing impact that comes from the Fan Cave.
NYSportsJournalism.com: This is the third incarnation of the MLB Fan Cave. How important has it become to the league's overall marketing and what is different this year?
Tim Brosnan: Awareness is up, interaction with fans is up. Baseball sees it as a really good way to connect with fans and also to reach people who may not be baseball fans. We always look for ways to get people talking about what we are doing. We added a Cave Art section, where you will see different exhibits throughout the season. The art scene is cool, hip and happening. So why shouldn't baseball be part of art and music. We are going to have Fan Cave University, and we will have experts in here talking about quantum physics, politics, art, the city. We expect a lot of musicians playing here.
NYSJ: Are you seeing results from the first two seasons of MLB Fan Cave?
TB: The proof is in the pudding: We have more than 1.2 million followers on social media (led by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), which is quadruple what we had last year. And remember, we are talking about a place in space. We manufactured this. And we expect to get the same [growth] results this year. So four million followers is not out of the question by the end of the year. And the most important aspect is that the average age of those followers is 20 years younger than the average age of baseball followers. Every business is trying to figure out how to attract people who are 18-34. That's good for any business. And we're getting them in the millions.
NYSJ: MLB marketing partners have been involved from the beginning, but are they playing a larger role and moving beyond being set decorations in the Fan Cave?
TB: The companies with whom we work love this concept and are getting more involved. Remember, the first year was really a work in progress with two guys sitting and watching every game. We were still doing major construction just a week before we opened for the  season. There has been more time for planning and for generating ideas and turning them into concepts. You see Scotts here, Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Sony, T-Mobile, other major partners. They all want to reach the dame audience that we do.
NYSJ: What have you heard from your partners about the Fan Cave?
TB: Indra Nooyi [chairman and CEO for PepsiCo] came in here last year and was agog, totally amazed. I remember that she looked around and said, 'I get it! I get it!' Which was cool. Pepsi has made a significant investment in the Fan Cave and she had not seen it up until then. We were having a board meeting downstairs with out owners, and she came in and said to us, 'Do you know how hard people are trying to get where you've gotten with this space?' So we're pleased, but we are not resting. We think that this year, with the talent that we have, and the experience that we have from the first two years, we can take some major steps forward.
"Indra Nooyi [PepsiCo chairman/CEO] came in last year and was totally amazed. I remember that she looked around and said, 'I get it! I get it!' Which was cool."
NYSJ: How much has MLB's interaction with fans changed in just the two year's since the Fan Cave opened?
TB: Social media and fan interaction is key to what we are doing. We have blogs going on, videos going out. We show live concerts from the Fan Cave. This year we added Mission Control powered by MLB.TV, which not only monitors each stadium but enables us to have chats between people in the Fan Cave and fans in the stadiums. We have our social media experts constantly monitoring this. The people who oversee the Fan Cave Web site give us feedback. We are getting better every day at reaching the people who live on the digital water cooler (holding up his cell phone). But what we are not afraid to do, which we can't do in a lot of other contexts, is experiment. If you ask me what is spontaneous in the Fan Cave, I would have to say everything. Any idea that you have, within reason, we can try to advance it.
NYSJ: How involved are MLB's teams?
TB: They have been involved in many ways. We get athletes from out of town teams in here when they play in New York. This year, we have all 30 teams involved in an effort to find a 'super fan' who will get to visit the Fan Cave while their home team is in New York [to play either the Mets or Yankees]. We're already hearing from teams that they are really excited about the concept.
NYSJ: Was there any push back from team owners that the MLB Fan Cave was a good idea?
TB: There was convincing needed when it was just a concept. We had to talk about what it could become. How effective it could be to reach fans on social media. How our marketing partners could take advantage of it. After it opened, the hardest part may have been explaining what we do and what the Fan Cave to those who were not here and had not seen it in person. You kind of scratch your head if you are not here. But when you are here, you go, 'I get it.' And when you are producing numbers, like the increase in followers or the attention from the media, those things are tangible. This started out with our ad agency (Hill Holliday) saying to us, 'We'd like a guy to watch every baseball game on TV.' Sort of like a Big Brother concept where we would put him in a room somewhere and watch him on closed-circuit TV. And now here we are.
NYSJ: The MLB All-Star Game is in Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, this year. What impact will that have?
TB: The All-Star Game has given us [the first two years] a great marketing platform and a nice secondary marketing platform outside of the New York area. This year, with the game in New York, it is going to give us a giant content engine to push out whatever we are planning around the game. It will be a terrifically active platform.
NYSJ: This year also is unique because of the World Baseball Classic, which at the Fan Cave included 32 fans, one from each nation, watching the games. How impactful was it as a lead-in to the 2013 season?
TB: It was terrific. People wanted baseball and they got into it with the Classic. We saw a lot of support on social media. We had more than 400,000 followers on social media platforms. Our [marketing] partners loved it because it was global and attracted fans who might not have been MLB fans.
NYSJ: What are you learning from social media in the Fan Cave that you can translate to other aspects of MLB this season and beyond?
TB: The secret to social media, which is not so secret any more, is that if it's not authentic, people will turn it off. The era of celebrities just tweeting out endorsements is on the decline. Now you have to be authentic because people realize the difference between what's authentic and what is shilling. The reason the Fan Cave is growing in popularity is because it is authentic. So we will continue to push the social media aspect and build the connection between MLB and its fans.
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