Bringing Baseball FansCloser to the Field

Brosnan sees All-Stars as chance to show off changing rules of engagement
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Former Georgetown University pitcher and team captain Tim Brosnan once received an invite to try out for the Los Angeles Dodgers at a field in Brooklyn, along with several hundred other big-league wannabes. Brosnangot to toss about eight pitches before team scouts sent him to the showers. For a guy who had grown up on the Lower East Side collecting empty milk cartons to exchange for free Mets tickets, it was the end of a dream to make his living playing baseball. But it was hardly the end of his dream of being involved, somehow, in the sport.

Brosnan went to law school, worked at a couple of high-powered New York City firms and mulled a career in politics. But after serving on a state commission that investigated government corruption, Brosnan, with an assist from one of his bosses—former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance— scored an interview with Major League Baseball.

MLB at the time was starting up a small international division, so extensive prior experience for the gig was not required. Brosnan grabbed the opportunity to get back in the game. He spent his first day on the job at the 1991 All-Star Game in Toronto, calling his wife to celebrate, saying: “They are actually going to pay me for this.”

As executive VP, business for MLB, Brosnan oversees broadcasting and media rights, sponsorship, licensing, marketing, sales, MLB Enterprises and special events, a responsibility list that includes the July 16 All-Star Game at Citi Field, home of his beloved Mets. For Brosnan, who has led efforts to grow TV viewership and attendance by connecting fans with players via social media, the All-Star Game (to be telecast on Fox) and the July 15 Home Run Derby (ESPN) offer the sport a big midseason platform to show off its best promotional stuff.

Left to Their Own Devices

This year, participants in the Home Run Derby will be able to use their own devices to communicate with fans. (As it did in 2012, MLB will also set up laptops on the sidelines for the stars to use if they prefer.) On their bus from Manhattan to the All-Star Game, baseball’s best will be encouraged to tweet and Snapchat away, bringing fans along for the ride. It’s quite a turnaround from the All-Star Game 10 years ago in Chicago, when Brosnan says he spent hours plotting “the most secretive routes from the hotel to the ballpark we could find.”

Making it easier for players to interact with followers is another forward step in Brosnan’s media game plan to make baseball more transparent and lift national TV ratings, which dipped last season.

“We’re trying to be as intrusive as we can, without compromising our competitions,” Brosnan says. “Our theme going forward is all about access. Fans are not content to just see a moving picture anymore. They want to know more about what’s happening on the field. And they want to know about the lives of these athletes.”

Listening In on Conversations

While viewers of MLB’s national telecasts frequently see managers and players interviewed in the dugout during games via headsets, Brosnan hopes to eventually have the networks’ sideline reporters do quick stand-up interviews at the far end of the dugout. “You’re going to see more [TV access] in the dugout, certainly conversationally,” he says. “You’re also going to see and hear more of what’s happening in the bullpens, particularly late in games when the action and strategy is taking place.”

Getting permission from players and club owners for TV to have additional behind-the-scenes access is not an easy sell, and the newfangled look-ins sometimes don’t hit it out of the park. “It’s not always fantastic television,” Brosnan admits. “But in order to get fantastic television, you have to be there.”

Growing baseball internationally remains high on Brosnan's lineup card. He oversees the World Baseball Classic, the annual March tournament modeled on soccer's World Cup that this year featured teams representing the U.S. and 27 other countries. The event showcases foreign stars who could someday get their shot in MLB, which this season has its first-ever players from Brazil and Germany and its second from Italy. "If a player makes it here, he essentially becomes the hometown guy of baseball for his whole country," Brosnan says.

MLB's first big international success story was Hideo Nomo, the standout pitcher who left Japan in 1995 to join the Dodgers and started that year's All-Star Game. "We took huge advantage of it," Brosnan recalls. "We took over some of the big screens in downtown Tokyo. People could not get up onto the streets from the subways, and the trains were backed up, because crowds were stopping to watch Nomo pitch. Homegrown talent has really shaped the strategy for our international business, and it all started with Nomo."

Brosnan says all the on-the-job learning he got to do about MLB during his first years in the international division was invaluable in his climb up the ladder. Paul Beeston, longtime president of the Toronto Blue Jays (who played host at Brosnan’s first All-Star Game back in ’91), says “it was quite obvious while Tim was building our international business that he was a sponge for more responsibility.”

While Brosnan last year locked up $12.4 billion in new national TV deals from 2014- 21 for MLB, Beeston notes he also plays a key role on the local level. “Tim has become an important resource for all of the clubs in the negotiation of their own TV rights— what they should look for in valuation and all of the other media aspects that are being included in those contracts,” Beeston says. “He is a tremendous asset to the game.”

E-mail comments to bmoran@nbmedia.com

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