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There’s no other way to put it – the coronavirus pandemic has been an epic disaster for the world of sports. Once news broke that an NBA player was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early March, every major professional sports league has shut down for business. With no games being played (and no firm dates even set for when play will resume), that has also had a major impact on social media strategies for these teams. How, exactly, are you supposed to produce social media content if seasons are on hold (or even worse) canceled entirely?
MLB and virtual baseball games
One interesting solution to this problem has come from Major League Baseball (MLB), which is using a two-pronged strategy to keep fans engaged. On one hand, it is showing reruns and highlights of noteworthy games from previous seasons. And, on the other hand, it has fully embraced the world of e-sports and virtual baseball games. In the Philadelphia area, for example, you can now watch a “doubleheader” on weekends consisting of a rerun of a Phillies game from 2019, preceded by a virtually simulated Phillies game.
Obviously, the really interesting angle here is the virtual e-sports component. After all, reruns and highlights are a staple of the baseball offseason, but virtually simulated games are something very new. As part of a promotion called “MLB The Show,” all 30 MLB teams have chosen one major leaguer to play virtual video games on Sony’s PlayStation for them. Overall, each team will play 29 games of “MLB The Show” on PlayStation as part of a players league, and the top 8 teams will then go into a postseason, single-elimination tournament.
The idea here, of course, is to somehow keep fans engaged during the current baseball lockdown and also make things exciting. In the case of social media, it also gives teams some content to produce, as well as a brand-new hashtag to promote: #MLBtheShow). The Phillies, for example, have been going full-tilt on making every game played by Rhys Hoskins something noteworthy on social media. They are promoting his presence on the Twitch video gaming platform (Twitch.TV/RhysHoskinsMLB), and making it as easy as possible for people to experience virtual baseball games. It helps, of course, that Rhys Hoskins is already one of the most popular Phillies players, and is extremely social media-friendly. Prior to Bryce Harper arriving in Philadelphia, Hoskins was the face of the franchise.
Other social media content ideas
And virtual baseball games are not the only way the Phillies are trying to keep fans engaged via social media in the era of coronavirus. They are promoting a Phillies podcast (“Pine Tar For Breakfast”) and a Phillies YouTube show (“10 Minutes With T-Mac”), showcasing viral video clips from Phillies players (such as Andrew McCutchen, who has been uploading funny “Larry” clips from his alter ego Lawrence McCutchen), and providing regular updates from both current and past Phillies players.
And, for examples of how sports teams from different professional leagues are combining resources to engage fans, look no further than New York. The Yankees social media team helped put together a brief #WeAreNewYork viral video showcasing clips from all of the local New York teams (including not just baseball, but also football, hockey, basketball and soccer). The video, released on April 16, has already picked up more than 800,000 views in the span of just a few days. The video is so powerful because it also highlights how New York responded in the aftermath of 9/11, and how sports became a way for the entire city to showcase its resilience and strength. The same will now be true in the post-coronavirus era.
“We Are In This Together”
It’s easy to see how this same sort of “We Are In This Together” approach to dealing with the coronavirus might be used across social media by all professional sports teams. Just as professional sports teams celebrated the first responders like firemen and policemen in the aftermath of 9/11, they now have the opportunity to celebrate medical professionals who are keeping America healthy while the rest of the nation is locked down. Don’t be surprised if, on Opening Day of the Phillies season, the biggest stars in the stadium that day are not people like Bryce Harper or Rhys Hoskins, but rather, the local doctors and nurses who have worked 14-hour shifts for months in order to save lives.