There hasn't been a Tower Records on the corner of Manhattan's East Fourth Street and Lafayette for nearly six years, but now a whole new kind of musical experience has taken its place. The MLB Fan Cave, a TV studio/performance space opened by Major League Baseball in the former Tower building, has been hosting concerts by acts from LMFAO and Tinie Tempah in 2011 to Adam Lambert and Young the Giant this summer, with more major groups scheduled to appear before season's end.
Why are these musical acts so eager to get in front of baseball fans? Well, for starters, there's the reach. In any given week, MLB coverage reaches upward of 30 million viewers across MLB.com, MLB Network, 30 in-stadium TV networks and broadcast partners Fox, ESPN and Turner Sports, with footage from Fan Cave concerts airing during promo time across all of the TV broadcasts. And when the league really gets behind a synch, the impact can be even greater. After Tempah's "Written in the Stars" was licensed as the theme of the MLB's post-season marketing campaign, the song experienced a 77% sales bump during the weeks it impacted, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and generated an estimated $40 million to $50 million in free media exposure.
When it comes to fan engagement, the league's digital savvy is what makes MLB really stand out from such less-centralized peers as the National Football League, the National Basketball Assn. and even the National Hockey League. Indeed, MLB Advanced Media has become a veritable hub for sports video, drawing in 10 million viewers to MLB.com during the active season, more than 2.2 million paid subscribers to MLB.Tv and AtBat apps and, on the back end, powering video servers for other companies' sites, including ESPN 360.
"Baseball is unique in that we've got more live, time-sensitive content than anybody else," MLB chief marketing officer Jacqueline Parkes says. "By nature of just the pace of it, we're the most social of any sport, given the fact that our games average over three hours of people interacting."
The Fan Cave also has a music veteran at the helm. MLB Advanced Media head of entertainment Ken Crasner joined MLB in 2004 after 15 years at such companies as Front Line, RCA/BMG and AEG, and he now oversees bookings for the Fan Cave alongside MLB's Stephanie Brodene and Lauren Verrusio. "We have a lot of relationships with labels and artist managers we can leverage that allow our assets to really shine," Crasner says.
Rapper Nas sought to tap into that fan power when his album "Life Is Good" hit shelves, teaming with the Fan Cave for a release-week concert that spanned hits, fan favorites and a handful of new songs. The show generated more than 5 million social media impressions, press coverage from more than 40 different outlets and upward of 30 user-generated YouTube videos during the first 24 hours alone. It was also one of the few stops Nas made during his press tour for the album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the following week on the Aug. 4 chart. The successful gig has prompted several more bookings - Neon Trees is scheduled for an Aug. 28 gig, while other upcoming performances this month include OneRepublic (Aug. 9), Gym Class Heroes (Aug. 27) and the Band Perry (Aug. 30).
"Having a program with artists gives us enormous exposure and a tremendous opportunity," Island Def Jam VP of digital marketing Alison Schlueter says. "For Nas, who's a Queens guy, just to have a concert playing at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field is amazing for him."
The Fan Cave Concert Series has also become a growing favorite among players. New York Yankees pitcher Cody Eppley, who recently joined the team, went down to the Cave on his first day in Manhattan to check out a favorite band, Daughtry. "I've got owners coming and bringing their kids," Parkes says. "It's become a really special destination, where baseball meets pop culture."
Scott Avett, half of folk-rock duo the Avett Brothers, channelled Joltin' Joe DiMaggio while discussing the venue's potential impact after playing a gig there in May. According to Avett, DiMaggio was famous for saying, "There is always some kid who may be seeing me play for the first or last time-I owe him my best." Avett says, "That's how we feel about it, too."