Home Run Multicultural Insights from the 2023 World Baseball Classic
The 2023 World Baseball Classic was a huge success from an audience, engagement, and merchandising perspective. The tournament featured teams from across the world with the final between Japan and the U.S. drawing a peak of 6.5 million viewers (a 69% increase from the previous 2017 final) across the Fox Sports 1 cable network, Fox Deportes, and Fox Sports’ streaming platform. The first pitch of the 2023 baseball season will take place tomorrow and although the WBC is technically an exhibition tournament, the cultural insights that brands can glean from it are Major League.
From America’s Pastime to a Global Pastime
If you happened to watch any of the WBC games that took place in Phoenix and Miami, there certainly was no home-field advantage for the U.S. team. Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, and Japanese fans filled the stands. It’s not surprising because for these fans the WBC is a big deal, as it represents the highest level of baseball for its teams and players. Many of the fans who bought tickets and merchandise for the WBC are U.S. immigrants, multicultural Americans who love baseball and love their national team more than their favorite MLB team.
According to Major League Baseball, of the 975 players on 2022 MLB rosters, 38% came from a diverse background (Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American), with Latinos making up the largest share of these diverse players.
Brands interested in connecting with multicultural Americans should look no further than baseball, which has evolved from America’s pastime to a Global pastime. To connect with them, brands should understand the unique subcultures of baseball. Here are some awesome baseball traditions that came to life during the WBC as thought starters for marketers interested in connecting with multicultural baseball fans:
Beisbol in Latin America / The Caribbean
The Latin American region has long been a hotbed of baseball talent, with countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico producing numerous top-level players. These countries have not only contributed immensely to the MLB in terms of talent, but they have also brought their unique flair, passion, and style to the game. This unique style of play is characterized by aggressive baserunning, flashy defensive plays, and exuberant celebrations, which have all injected a sense of excitement into the sport, making it more engaging for fans worldwide.
The on-the-field exuberance is matched by the energy and passion of the fans from this region. For example, in the Dominican Republic, games come to life via the energetic sounds of merengue and bachata music. Fans dance in the stands and engage in lively chants throughout the game, creating a festive atmosphere. Fans in the Dominican Republic often bring homemade instruments like güiras (a type of scraper) and tamboras (a drum) to games, adding to the lively musical atmosphere.
In Cuba, fans are known for their passionate and analytical discussions and debates about the game. It’s not uncommon to see fans engaging in heated conversations about tactics, players, and team performances during (and well after) the game.
Venezuelan baseball fans bring their culture to baseball games through music and color. They are known for their music, where they bring instruments such as maracas and drums to the games and engage in impromptu jam sessions in the stands. They often wear their team’s colors from head to toe, with wigs, face paint, and vibrant costumes, showcasing their team spirit in a fun and creative way.
After soccer, baseball is a big deal in Mexico and the Mexican national team had a strong showing by making it to the semi-final in this year’s WBC. The Mexican game is perhaps a cross between MLB and the Latin American game with some definite Mexican flair. If you’re lucky enough to attend a game in Mexico, you will likely run face-to-face with passionate fans donning Lucha Libre Masks of their favorite team. The stadium will echo with porra chants or songs that fans sing throughout the game. You will also likely see and hear mariachi bands performing in the stands or on the fields in concert with the constant sounds of vuvuzelas.
Baseball in Asia
Asia has become a major force in the baseball world, with Japan and South Korea leading the way. Both countries have thriving professional leagues (Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan and the Korea Baseball Organization in South Korea) that have cultivated a strong fan base and produced world-class talent.
The Asian baseball style, which emphasizes discipline, precision, and respect for the game, offers a different perspective that complements the more flamboyant Latino styles. This more methodic style was apparent in the 2023 WBC, where Asian teams demonstrated their exceptional fundamentals, strong pitching, and solid defense – with Japan winning it all.
Baseball games in Japan are known for their organized, energetic cheering squads called Oendan. These groups lead fans in synchronized chants, songs, and dances, creating an electric atmosphere. Each team has its own unique songs and cheers that are performed throughout the game. During the seventh-inning stretch, you won’t hear Take me out to the ballgame, but you will see fans of Japanese teams inflate balloons in their team’s colors and release them simultaneously, creating a colorful spectacle in the sky.
In South Korea, baseball games also feature cheerleaders who lead the crowd in synchronized chants and dances. Fans wave and bang colored “thundersticks” while singing and dancing along with the cheerleaders. They sometimes take it a step further and create humorous chants for opposing players, poking fun at their names or playing style. These chants are usually lighthearted and in good spirits, adding to the fun atmosphere.
As the popularity of baseball continues to expand globally, it’s fascinating to observe the impact different cultures have on the sport domestically and abroad. The 2023 World Baseball Classic stands as a testament to the game’s ability to transcend borders, bring people together, and provide opportunities for brands looking to connect with multicultural audiences.
The 2023 MLB season is about to start so if you’re interested in brainstorming ideas for leveraging baseball to reach multicultural audiences, let’s meet and draw up a winning lineup.