ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, one of the sideline reporters for last night’s 2012 Major League Baseball State Farm Home Run Derby, broke in during the second round of the event with the report:
“The Home Run Derby has been trending on Twitter, not just in the U.S., but WORLDWIDE, since it began!”
And I stared blankly at the screen and wondered why that mattered.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. I love baseball. I even love torturing myself through nearly four hours of glorified batting practice, product placement, and Chris Berman on an annual basis. So I’m not trying to find fault in the fact that Gomez, and in-turn ESPN, were so proud about the Derby’s success on Twitter. I’m just trying to compute what that could possibly tell a network like ESPN, or their corporate parent Disney, about their audience?
Presumably, it could have told them that they’re killing it with the youth demographic, but I’m pretty sure they already knew that. After all, I won’t deny that I watch this thing every year, but I do question my sanity for doing so more and more with each turn of the calendar. It also told us that their viewership base was pretty large, but again, I think we knew that. And even if we didn’t, these are pictures a simple look at the Nielsen ratings could paint. So maybe it’s to get some honest, real time feedback from the fans who actually watch this thing?
The problem with that is the oft-criticized master of ceremonies for the Derby — the aforementioned Berman – doesn’t seem receptive to the bounds of criticism available at the push of a button. ESPN doesn’t seem inclined to change the format at all, as it trudges through four hours of oohs, ahhs, and Gatorade. So again, I ask, “What is Major League Baseball, ESPN, their corporate sponsors, and anyone else with a vested interest, getting out of the fact that the Home Run Derby was trending worldwide on Twitter?”
Presumably, it’s the “cool party” theory. “Look how many people are watching this. You should be, too!” And that kind of group-think has plenty of merit. It’s why sponsors have been buying “promoted” trending topics since Twitter’s early stages. But isn’t there a better way to leverage this medium than just telling your viewing audience to hop on and see how popular you are? Other than a graphic of a tweet from Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano predicting the length of eventual-champion Price Fielder’s moon shots, isn’t there a better way to enhance the coverage of the event and not just supplement it?
Sports and Twitter seem to have an intriguing connection; they lend themselves to one another to create an electronic sports bar. But at the real ones, they find a way to turn a captive audience into a windfall of money by selling wings and beer. ESPN and Twitter’s next chore has to be to find their virtual version of cold brews and fried food.