Jomboy Media keeps things simple. In 2017, Jimmy O’Brien launched the Talkin’ Yanks podcast. Its growing audience allowed him, along with Jake Storiale, to expand with Talkin’ Baseball in 2019. Meanwhile, Jomboy (a nickname for O’Brien) uploaded hundreds of short videos on YouTube—“Baseball Breakdowns,” in his parlance—that garnered millions of views. A two-minute clip exposing the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme brought Jomboy even more recognition.
Jomboy received $1 million in funding this winter. Talkin’ Baseball and Talkin’ Yanks regularly rank among the top baseball podcasts, next to shows from ESPN and The Athletic. The network has also expanded to include longtime commentator Chris Rose and former pro Trevor Plouffe as hosts. Jomboy’s newest show, a prospect-focused program Farm To Fame, comes after Atlanta-based TV reporter Kelsey Wingert reached out to pitch it.
“They’re so far ahead of the game when it comes to podcasts and social media,” Wingert said in an email. “I had been approached about starting numerous podcasts and working with different people but didn’t have much interest because there are so many podcasts right now, and to have success, you’ve got to find ways to stand out and get people to listen. Partnering with Jomboy alone is something that makes you stand out and gives you a path to success if you do it right. The response when we announced it was insane…. People love these guys and what they are doing, and I’m fired up to be a part of it.” Former pro pitcher Peter Moylan will co-host Farm to Fame.
“Compared to MLB’s policies in 2016, they’re doing a fantastic job,” O’Brien said. “Compared to some other sports currently, maybe it’s still a little subpar. But the biggest step is that they understood they were going down a real bad path for a while there, and they changed.”
In the Web 1.0 era, MLB Advanced Media led the way among leagues, developing a best-in-class streaming platform that would be used by ESPN and HBO as well as the league. Disney acquired a majority stake of streaming-tech spinoff BAMTech in 2017 at a $3.75 billion valuation.
But by then, a new online era had emerged, and MLB struggled to adapt. As early as 2007, the league was taking heat for punishing a MySpace page that used a Cubs logo.
“Major League Baseball, a decade ago, decided to focus on short-term economics to the detriment of being everywhere where people are and building up their stars,” digital marketing specialist Gary Vaynerchuck told Sports Illustrated in 2018.
MLB was starting to loosen up by that point. In 2019, O’Brien was reportedly told that the league would be less aggressive in claiming ownership over content on YouTube and Twitter. In September, MLB released Film Room, an online repository stuffed with millions of video clips. “You can do whatever you want, in terms of accessing historical videos and highlights, and you can literally post it anywhere,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said at the time. “I think once we saw what was happening in regard to the digital media ecosystem, we felt like we had to do what was best for our fans, and that was really what we’ve done in terms of making an adjustment over time.”
At the same time, MLB has grown its own online efforts. Marketing SVP Barbara McHugh started in that position in 2018 and has developed the league’s player social program, which delivers video and other content for players’ personal accounts. More than 1,000 players are now enrolled. MLB now also has its own slate of original shows on YouTube to go with a collection of live games each year. In April, it will launch its first tentpole podcast, hosted by Xavier Scruggs.
This offseason, in a step backwards partly chalked up to pandemic-related financial losses, MLB eliminated a social in-game coordinator program it had launched in 2015 to support clubs’ online efforts. The expectation is that teams will now handle those duties themselves. Emboldened fan-creators might also pick up the slack.
“There’s a lot of people in this space doing good things… and MLB is allowing a lot of these people to thrive, and to promote baseball along the way.” O’Brien said. “I think they get a lot of s— and I think they deserved it a couple of years ago. I don’t think they do anymore.”
During MLB’s last full season, its main Instagram account registered a 63% increase in engagement while each of the league’s three biggest media partners—Fox, ESPN and TBS—registered viewership gains. When baseball came back late last summer, viewers under 55 made up a larger share of the audience than they had in 2019 (47% vs. 44%). “I think the sport’s ready to grow,” O’Brien said.
Jomboy has ambitions to stretch well beyond baseball—into other sports, into culture, maybe into comedy. But for now, it feels it has plenty of room to grow inside the sport, especially in a new, more open era for the league online.
“MLB likes us,” Storiale said. “We want to keep that relationship as good as possible…. Like, let’s do this right. Let’s make this the best thing it can be for baseball, and then whatever else we get into.” Simple enough.