During an extensive rain delay at a Mets game the other week, I had my first extended opportunity to watch former “HQ Trivia” front man Scott Rogowsky apply his amusing though sometimes grating humor to America’s pastime.
Rogowsky is co-host of streaming service DAZN’s new nightly baseball studio show “ChangeUp.” My first take (ESPN pun intended) of the show was that here was the latest overtly pandering play at casting an irreverent vibe to appeal to generations younger than mine.
I envisioned traditionalists shuddering, since “ChangeUp” often appeared to be trying way too hard to put a hip/cool spin on a sport that my firm’s research has often shown draws significant equity from its reverence, steeped history and unwritten rules.
"ChangeUp" was in ways reflective of the recent actions of White Sox emerging star Tim Anderson, who fresh off of a bat flip, “beanbrawl” and suspension, sang from the Bryce Harper songbook by calling his own sport “boring.
DAZN’s "ChangeUp" and the Anderson incidents are perhaps the latest trial balloons as we continue to watch what many paint as mutually exclusive and dueling forces between those seeking to preserve baseball’s deferential essence, and MLB and DAZN’s (among other media’s) relentless pursuit of a younger audience.
Last week, the Washington Post ran an interesting piece on DAZN’s strategy behind “ChangeUp,” noting that the subscription-based service, overseen in the U.S. by former ESPN chief John Skipper, saw "ChangeUp" as an important step in both developing dynamic live content and positioning itself for media rights acquisitions beyond its current big bet on boxing.
DAZN’s $19.99 per month subscription fee ($99.99 per year) is significantly steeper than the fee for ESPN+, and also faces stiff competition from first mover MLB Network’s cable offering as well as the league’s AtBat and MLB.TV digital products.
But the more I watched "ChangeUp" and began to think about it from my perspective as a sports and media researcher, the more I began to recognize that in many ways, the show is a great litmus test for both MLB’s uber-focus on youth and the ways in which sports content will be consumed beyond the in-person experience.
Live sports has thus far remained relatively impervious to time-shifted ad avoidance. So whether it be DAZN’s pursuit of audience share from other studio shows and real-time apps, or last week’s purchase by Sinclair Media of the former Fox RSNs, where an abundance of local MLB programming resides, we will soon see what rules the day.
In a study of the golf space, we found that for the most rabid fans, the infusion of several vertical new media players was typically additive rather than disruptive to legacy media consumption. Of course those entrants followed a tone similar to that of traditional players. What makes DAZN’s MLB coverage more intriguing is that it has adopted a distinctively edgier voice at a premium price. It will be interesting to see if it resonates.