W+K Seeks to Broaden MLB's Pop-Culture Appeal

Building buzz for the new season and beyond

So, it's a whole new ball game for MLB this year?

Not really. Major League Baseball's offering—steeped in nearly 150 years of tradition—is beyond well established at this point. We know what "The Show" has to offer. Like the song says, it's an "old ball game," revered and beloved by die-hards, but, alas, aging less gracefully than most would have hoped.

In recent decades, America's pastime, although still hugely popular, has suffered attendance dips and lost a grip on the cultural conversation. These days, the NBA, NFL and global soccer generate the fan excitement once reserved for the sport that made Ruth, Mantle and Mays household names.

So, a contemporary spin for MLB seems fitting in 2023, especially as the league introduces rule changes for the new season starting this week. (They're designed mostly to speed up play).

That spin arrives (like a hanging curveball?) in the form of ads from Wieden + Kennedy Portland tagged "Baseball Is Something Else." The campaign represents an effort to "modernize baseball nostalgia" and define the fan experience for a new generation, the league says.

A trio of shorts distill aspects of the stadium vibe. Naturally, players appear (including Yankees homer hero Aaron Judge), along with mascots and lots of hot dogs across vibrant quick-cut visuals propelled by punchy, eclectic soundtracks.

"The sights, sounds and smells of baseball are a potion that takes hold of us," W+K creative director Josh Bogdan tells Muse. "So, we just let the game, with its unique elements, speak for itself."

These ads certainly pop, though the "Something Else" bit slides perilously close to parody. The tunes are especially rad—no organist playing CHARGE! for today's MLB.

"Baseball runs the full spectrum of tones. It can be dynamic, quirky, or pull on the heartstrings. So the music choices are as varied as the game," he says. "It can be 2 Chainz's 'I'm Different' over a celebration of the League's craziest hot dogs. And it can also be Cameron J's a-cappella version of 'The William Tell Overture' over an ode to the rituals of Opening Day."

Separately, there's also a new "content and experiential" platform called "MLB Life," with a website, social channels, lifestyle events and "activations centered around baseball's connection to fashion, food, music, art and gaming." It's all designed to "highlight the many intersections between baseball and culture around the world," the league says.

That conjures up images of stickball in the cities and Little League on suburban sandlots—where kids once gleefully swung for the fences and imagined winning the World Series. But that era's gone, replaced by hoop dreams and gooooaaaaals! amid a frenetic sports/media landscape that fractures more each day.

It's probably past time for MLB to attempt catching up. And yet, cultural shifts happen over many years. They represent a confluence of complex factors, and sweeping swings are often largely organic in nature.

While all to the good, commercials and digital outreach won't be game changers in the near term. (Though 63 dingers from Judge might speed up the process.)

To add some Hollywood pizazz, MLB recently drafted Bryan Cranston to explain its rules changes:

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