I had this idea long before Sunday, but the NFL’s decision to simultaneously broadcast the Bears-Saints playoff game on CBS (traditional) and Nickelodeon (for kids) really solidified the concept for me: There should be multiple broadcasts for almost every single Cubs game, with at-home viewers able to flip back and forth between audio overlays the way you can already switch between Spanish and English.
But before we get into the specifics for the Cubs/MLB, let’s talk about yesterday.
Out of curiosity, I watched the entirety of the Nickelodeon broadcast yesterday, and I can tell you with certainty that it was *good*. Sure, there were some silly, gimmicky things like goofy eyeballs, SpongeBob goalposts, and the “Slime Zone” …
Slime touchdown for Michael Thomas.
Love it. pic.twitter.com/XH3Zv5v9Ev
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) January 10, 2021
… But it was SO so much more than that.
In between silly graphics and digital gags, the three-team announcer crew, which featured Nickelodeon star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green together with broadcaster Noah Eagle and former player Nate Burleson, explained the game in laymen’s terms. They also got excited when funny things happened, they stood in awe when big plays were completed, they asked questions, discussed backgrounds, made *relevant* pop-culture references and more.
And although I do not care for ‘The Big Bang Theory’, the broadcast had a pop-up ‘Young Sheldon’ come on screen anytime there was a penalty flag to explain what exactly was happening, why it was happening, and how it would impact the game. Genius. If you want to build your next audience, you need to entertain them, sure, but you also need to educate them. And that aspect of the broadcast took something that could have been little more than a gimmick and turned it into something truly inspired.
(Brett: Let me interject that all of that is basically what I was doing organically with my kiddos the last few weeks, as they started watching football with me. I don’t know what compelled them to do it now, but when they did, they wanted to know all the details on what was happening, why it looked like it did, what we were supposed to think about certain things, etc. They REALLY wanted more engagement than just watching the screen, and that, in turn, made them way more hooked.)
I think baseball, the Cubs, and Marquee could take a lesson from this.
Make no mistake: Catering to a younger, unfamiliar audience is not the full extent of my plan. So hear me out, because I think this is how I’d set things up. Some ideas for the broadcasts …
The Default Broadcast
First thing’s first: let’s not over think this. The normal broadcast tandem (J.D. and Boog in 2021) should still be the default broadcast. If you’re watching this game on TV, this is who you’ll hear and if you click over to The Marquee App, you’ll have to click OFF their broadcast to hear or see anything else.
Most people, I assume, would be more than happy to stick with the status quo, and I wouldn’t blame them. Boog and J.D. figure to be a great tandem, already blending the right amount of levity, game knowledge, dad jokes, an appropriately analytic lean, and overall respect for the game.
The Beginners Broadcast
This would be something closer to the Nickelodeon broadcast, perhaps minus the slime and gimmicks. In this broadcast, you’d ideally be led by younger voices who take time to explain the foundations and fundamentals of baseball.
Why are they pinch hitting? What is the infield fly rule? Who is that player? How did El Mago get his nickname?
And if they can find a way to include more personal player things (a player’s favorite movie or type of pizza) and some more relevant pop culture references to keep people engaged, all the better. In this way, the “beginner’s” broadcast can appeal to MORE than just young people, it can appeal to those fans that want to understand the game better, but are too often overlooked.
Maybe you wouldn’t have a Beginners Broadcast available for every single game – make it more of an “event” if regular production is unrealistic – but it should be very frequent. You never know when you might just start the process of making a baseball fan for life.
The Advanced Broadcast
As you can probably imagine, this would be exactly the opposite. In this broadcast, there would be not only a deeper dive into the world of advanced analytics, but also is a broadcast built on the understanding that the viewers know every player, watch every game, etc.. There would be no hand-holding and there would be a whole lot more to bite into.
For those of us who already watch games with Statcast open in one tab and the live FanGraphs leaderboard open in another, this would be the broadcast to watch.
The Traditional Broadcast
And lastly, the traditional broadcast. Think trousers and batting average. Think RBIs and Pitcher Wins. Think old stories, old players, old stats, and plenty of fun. And why not?
I’m not personally a “baseball traditionalist”, but I still have a deep attachment to the history of the game. And considering the age of baseball’s average fan, there is absolutely nothing wrong with catering to that audience. Give them what they want, especially when it doesn’t “get in the way” of finding and serving a new audience.
* * *
Ultimately, I don’t think this should be a particularly difficult endeavor, either. I’m not looking at Marquee to quadruple their broadcast efforts with four equally impressive and professional digital products. Heck, audio-only overlays *could* do so much of the work. That could be a realistically-achievable investment. Think about the long-term benefits not only for the Cubs but for all of MLB and weigh it against the additional day-to-day costs. It’s probably minuscule.
And there is no limitation for what types of broadcasts the Cubs could create. In addition to the four above (Default, Beginners, Advanced, Traditional), I could imagine any number of other angles including, perhaps, (1) gambling, (2) fans-only, (3) … bloggers named Michael! And more!
So now that I’ve laid it out there, I have a few questions for you.
1. Do you like the idea?
2. Which broadcast would you pick?
3. What are broadcast types could you imagine?