Major League Baseball may have its work cut out for it as it continues to try to win over a new generation of digital-first fans, but a marketing strategy that leans heavily on TikTok has already paid off for old-school broadcast TV.
The short-form-video platform splashed itself all over Fox’s coverage of the 2021 World Series, airing the equivalent of 13 30-second ad units over the course of the six-night event. According to iSpot.tv estimates, TikTok ponied up approximately $4.57 million for the in-game commercial buy, making it the No. 11 spender in the Fall Classic, putting the brand in the company of October baseball perennials like T-Mobile and Taco Bell.
If you’re old enough to have been able to dress yourself the last time the Atlanta Braves won the title back in 1995, then you may have been somewhat puzzled by the between-innings presence of TikTok, an app with a user base composed largely of Gen Z-ers and Millennials. Baseball, as the ad trades never tire of reminding us, is a pastime favored by older types—the median age of the audience for the last three World Series was 56.5 years—and younger Americans have all but thrown in the towel on the drowsy pleasures of linear TV. Case in point: Adults 18-34, which make up nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population, account for just 7% of the total broadcast primetime viewership.
As much as the concept of perceived scarcity is the prime mover of the TV ad market—advertisers are forever tripping over themselves in their haste to pay a premium for the privilege of hitting a vanishing target—TikTok’s World Series investment seems to have stoked a good deal of interest in Fox viewers. According to data culled by the advertising analytics firm EDO, TikTok was the subject of a great deal of online search activity whenever its in-game spots aired, ranking third among all advertisers in terms of overall lift during Games 1-5. In the moments after its most-viewed “Mystery Apartment Girl” spot aired, TikTok was the beneficiary of 56,000 additional searches. Per EDO, TikTok would have to air three-and-a-half-times as many ads in a typical broadcast entertainment series in order to achieve the search boost of a single World Series ad.
For Fox, the TikTok windfall helped offset a decline in automotive spend, an area of increasing concern as the networks work their way through the fourth quarter. (With a combined World Series investment of $7.1 million, the cryptocurrency exchanges FTX and Crypto.com also did a lot of heavy lifting.) Last month, General Motors idled nearly all of its North American assembly plants, as supply chain issues effectively led to a shortage of the semiconductor chips that power everything from fuel-injection systems to dashboard backup cameras. (Depending on the complexity of the model, a new car can have between 2,000 and 3,000 microchips rattling around inside its various components.)
As production slows, ad spend is sure to follow. While the pinch will be particularly noticeable on the local level—there’s no sense in dealers buying year-end clear-the-lot ads if they don’t have any cars to sell—the chip shortage has begun making its mark on national TV. Chevrolet, the official automotive sponsor of MLB, reduced its World Series buy to 15 units at a cost of $5.31 million, down from the year-ago outlay (24 units, $10.2 million). All told, in-game auto spend plunged 48% from $40.9M in 2020 to $21.1 million in this year’s series. The duration of both series was six games.
TikTok bought five in-game units in the 2020 World Series, an investment of $2.22 million made just months after the company inked a $10 million sponsorship deal with the New York Yankees. The alliance between the Chinese social-media service and MLB evolved further this fall with the launch of the “Creator Class,” a team of 11 baseball-crazed influencers who serve as youthful ambassadors for the sport. Since the program was first announced in June, videos pinned to the #MLBCreatorClass hashtag have garnered some 72.5 million views.
The official MLB TikTok account has 4.7 million followers, within shouting distance of the NFL’s 6.9 million but still well behind the NBA’s 13.7 million.