So the stands are empty, everyone is forced to watch from home, and this just isn’t the same. It can’t be. No wandering the concourse or buying a hot dog. None of the well-oiled out in the center field sun or the season-ticket holders chanting after every run. This could well be baseball in 2020.
Ever since baseball slammed to a stop on March 12 because of the Coronavirus, it has searched for answers of what to do next. Finding a path to resuming games is crucial. The league wants revenue. The players want to play. Fans want to watch. All are being pushed back by safety concerns.
But, let’s use the premise that games do resume and that they do so without fans. That greatly reduces the number of people at a ballpark. Those congregating in the seats would be eliminated. A significant amount of stadium employees would also be removed from the situation. In all likelihood, the media would be shut out from being on-site, too.
Which means the league would need creative solutions for increased engagement. Luckily for it, we have some.
1. Talk to us. We’ve seen the power of live video calls thanks to the Nationals reunion to watch Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. That call, captained by Ryan Zimmerman and assisted by flowing booze, turned into an inside look at what it’s like to assemble those guys in one place. So, extrapolate this idea to games. Grab a starting pitcher the day after he pitches to watch the game with fans. Make it multiple innings (say three) as opposed to the snippet visits of the past. A host can steer the discussion. Think about this for Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom. Or young stars like Jack Flaherty, Walker Buehler, Blake Snell, Jose Berrios.
2. Bullpen diaries. Drop a stationary camera and multiple mics into the bullpen for the early innings to give everyone a look out there. Will this likely be a lot of sitting around? Sure. But, it’s also a place few have specific insight to. Let fans and everyone else hear what’s going on while those guys stir about. Also, and hear me out on this, rotate Fernando Rodney from team to team for bullpen visits. Like a roving host.
3. Everyone all-access. If “The Last Dance” and other documentaries have shown us anything, it’s that behind-the-scenes footage is always welcome. This couldn’t be done in real time because of competitive advantage. However, a weekly wrap of quarantine, in-season baseball life would be something to see. The players will have to be open in a way they otherwise would not be to make this work.
4. Call the legends. We’re all at home. So, get Cal Ripken, Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Joe Morgan, Bob Gibson, Brooks Robinson, Yaz, Bobby Cox, Reggie Jackson, Eck, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs, on and on and on. There are 81 current living members of the Hall of Fame. Take one feed and make it available for viewing during the games.
5. Bring in the beat writers. Yes, this is a bit self-serving. Though we have learned on the Nationals Talk podcast that having beat writers roundtables is something fans want to hear. So, have an alternative feed with a group of beat writers while they watch. There is as much banter, discussion and analysis of the game in the press box as anywhere else.
How about music? A way to sing “Take me out to the ballgame” en masse via video? Why not a way to watch with another group of fans on video framing the feed? Or at least a live chat? Everyone needs to be creative, to bend the old (see rights holders) rules a little, to find avenues to engage. Baseball in 2020 is already unlike any other season for the wrong reasons. Maybe it will be remembered for fun ones if it finds new ideas and, finally, a path to play ball.
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