Earlier today, I wrote about the couple from my hometown who participated in the baseball wedding at the Field of Dreams, and, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how Fenway Park has driven fans to Beantown over the years to visit the famed home of the Red Sox.
However, fan tourism isn't all that baseball is driving these days. The new interactive reality baseball show that is launching online is yet another example of how America's favorite sport continues to drive innovation. This regards MSN's new interactive reality show based on the sport.
Microsoft will be launching this online series, called Fan Club: Reality Baseball. The series will be interactive, offering users the chance to help manage a minor league baseball team. The series will use real minor league team the Schaumburg Flyers in Illinois. The interactive suggestions from the fans will then be collected and used in the team's decision-making process in practice and during games. The online content for the show will include game highlights and behind-the-scenes footage from the first half of the team's season.
Also connected with the show, family members and players themselves will be blogging on MSN Spaces to help promote both the show and the team. For a minor league team, particpating in the show could be a major boon. If the show's interactivity proves not to be superficial, fans may be attracted to following the team...and, for minor league teams, convincing some of those fans to make the travel to watch their games could be nothing but a help. With tourism dollars awfully tight, minor league baseball teams can often struggle to fill arenas.
What this decision may hinge on, however, is how authentic the interactivity is. Henry Jenkins, our director, has been known to write about the "collective intelligence" of fan communities. Here is a particularly good example to test that theory, with fans helping the team make strategic decisions. But, I am sure many remain fairly dubious as to whether this chance for fans to give advice to the players and coaching staff is anything more than a publicity stunt. Will the fan advice even really be taken into account?
The program will be created by LivePlanet and will be ad-supported. LivePlanet prides itself on creating entertainment properties "that seamlessly integrate traditional media, new media and the physical world."
And, if this show works, that's what it will do. It's the perfect example of the potential of the mass media to interact with direct fan participation. Fans can interact with players, read their blogs, follow their actual games, visit the team and their home field, etc. If the Schaumburg Flyers fully accept the idea...if MSN gets behind marketing the reality show...and if LivePlanet is able to reach and interest baseball fans, it could make a major difference.
Cable television helped change sports, as it developed a chance for fans to regularly follow other teams and somewhat changed the geographic distribution of how local sports teams are supported, although it is still largely based on home areas. The Internet fully integrated these "outlying" fans into the fold through online fan communities. This reality series has a chance to take it one step further. And, if successful, it could provide the precursor to how sports franchises regularly interact with their fan communities.