Content vs. Promotion

by Bryan

Minor League Baseball teams are masters of promotion. Last night, I was watching an episode of Man vs. Food where Adam Richman traveled to three separate minor league stadiums to sample their gimmicky food items. I saw him eat a bacon cheeseburger with a fried Krispy Kreme donut bun in Sauget, Illinois and a five-pound, five-cheeseburger Super Burger in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before I changed the channel. You’d never see these food items at a major league ballpark, not leastwise because healthy-eating groups would have a field day (One can only imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction if the Yankees started selling a five-pound burger. He’d outlaw all stadium food, and spend $20 million to do it.) You see it in minor league stadiums because minor league baseball needs to give fans every reason possible to come to the park to watch something that is an inferior product.

Those who argue that promotion is more important than content on the Internet could learn something here. Superior products sell themselves. Major League Baseball has an advertising budget, to be sure, and has blistered the airwaves with their “Beyond Baseball” commercials this fall. But they do it because they’re competing against other forms of entertainment for dollars—not other forms of baseball. Geographic factors aside, Major League Baseball does not need to worry about Minor League Baseball stealing its market share. It’s just not happening.

But wait, promotion junkies might say: what if Minor League Baseball had Major League Baseball’s advertising budget? Then the playing field would be even, except it wouldn’t: MLB would still have the product.  MLB has long been accused of not selling the game well enough in the “hip-hop era” (I can’t believe I just used that term), yet attendance is up and while food at the ballgames is a draw, it’s not the draw. There are easier ways to get Shake Shack than to go to Citi Field. There aren’t really easier ways to get five-pound burgers than to go to a West Michigan Whitecaps game.

It’s the same on the Internet. As my friend Dustin, a comic strip artist, wrote in response to my previous post, here’s the phenomenon of Digg, in a nutshell:

Let’s say you get on the front page of Digg. I’ve done it a few times. You get 3,000 Diggs, it translates into 100,000 hits in one day. You’re like WOW, fuck yeah, this is awesome! The next day you get maybe 15,000 hits. The next day 3,000. Then it gets smaller and smaller and next week you are back where you started. That’s the thing with social media. It doesn’t build your fanbase unless youre constantly generating content that does well. It just gives you spikes in traffic.

Those Diggs are like the Krispy Kreme burger. They’ll get people to come to your MiLB game despite its obvious inferiority, but eventually the popularity will wane. (A result of a Lipitor scarcity, perhaps). That’s why MiLB are constantly running ridiculous promotions, like one in Pennsyvlania where 800 kids stood on the field as a helicopter dropped 100 pounds of marshmallows and 100 pounds of candy toward them. Or the one from 2008 where the Quad Cities River Bandits of Davenport, IA (hey, I’ve been there!) offered free season tickets to anyone who got a team tattoo. For Minor League Baseball, promotion is a full-time job because the product is inferior. The promotion is the product. If you’re starting a blog and have an inferior product, yes, you should focus on promotion. But the better solution would be to spend most of that time creating better posts.

UPDATE: The minor league hijinks are not, it seems limited to baseball.