The MLB logo.

Major League Baseball’s surprising February decision to suddenly end its “in-game coordinator” social media program with no notice now looks even more curious following their announcement of a one-year stipend worth up to $25,000 for clubs looking to expand their social media efforts. As Mark J. Burns reports at Sports Business Journal, teams can apply for this with any expanded social media program:

MLB is offering teams the ability to opt-in to a one-time stipend of up to $25,000 per club for the 2021 season only, multiple sources told SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The stipend is designed to “aid with each club’s 2021 social media efforts given the late announcement of the 2021 program restructuring,” per a March 30 email sent by MLB Senior VP/Marketing Barbara McHugh. MLB’s in-game coordinator program was eliminated on Feb. 12.

The decision follows a club marketing call in February where teams afterwards provided feedback about how the league could support social media efforts in 2021, per the email. The stipend-based initiative is similar to one previously outlined at the club marketing meetings in Portland, Ore. in mid-November 2019, per multiple sources. Then, the new idea included phasing out the in-game coordinator program after 2020 and replacing it with a stipend-based option this year. Clubs would then have the responsibility of posting and hiring for a position.

McHugh wrote that “clubs can qualify for the stipend by outlining any expanded program or initiative on social media that is incremental to the work (e.g., design support, video editing, copywriting, etc.) that was funded by the club in 2019 or 2020.” Teams are being asked to submit their outline by the end of April. MLB will then provide those funds in May — upon approval — if not possibly sooner.

It’s unclear why MLB couldn’t have transitioned to the stipend program without having to lay off any of the IGCs in mid-Feb. To date, multiple clubs have hired their IGCs after they were laid off, sources said, and with the new stipend, others may follow suit.

Look, first off, people running social media accounts for MLB clubs (at least at the level they were doing under the IGC program) should be making more than $25,000. There’s clearly money there from these clubs, and similar corporate accounts with significantly less numbers of followers have been paying better than this for a long while. And while this stipend doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all those people will be paid (it’s possible a club could use this for part of someone’s salary and pay the rest themselves), the amount here certainly doesn’t set a high league value on this expanded club social media presence.

And it’s very odd in general that a bunch of MLB clubs were doing this under this program rather than just employing their own social media personnel. That’s something that they could clearly afford to do. But it’s stranger still that MLB suddenly announced this termination, that a bunch of clubs then hired people who had been working for them under this program, and then MLB announced a one-time stipend to help clubs expand their social media efforts.

Overall, it probably makes more sense for individual MLB clubs to employ their own social media personnel rather than have social media personnel working for them, but paid by the league. There’s some logic to phasing out the idea of centralized in-game coordinators and having clubs just handle that individually and directly. But the way MLB did that this offseason was extremely clumsy, leading to a lot of prominent people who had done well in that program being let go with little to no notice. And if this stipend had been announced at that time, that might have meant that a lot of those layoffs wouldn’t have had to happen, or at least not in the way that they did and the PR black eyes that brought.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.