Baseball Lifestyle 101 Connecting To Baseball Culture Through Social Media, Gear
Baseball Lifestyle 101 has proven it can connect with baseball culture. Ever since Josh Shapiro launched an Instagram account to curate baseball content at age 15, he has spent the subsequent seven years building far more than a social media following. He’s building what he calls a movement. And that movement has a following, engaging with fresh content and products.
Now with roughly 500,000 followers across Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, Baseball Lifestyle 101, with a sweet-spot demographic of baseball fans ages 13 to 18, has more followers than 90 percent of MLB players and 90 percent of MLB teams, the brand says. Pro players come to Baseball Lifestyle 101 to connect and engage with fans. And, in turn, those fans buy gear, giving the apparel side of the BL 101 business a significant boost, pushing it past $5 million in lifetime sales earlier this year and placing BL 101 on a trajectory to pass $2 million in sales in 2020.
“I want to personally change the game of baseball,” says Shapiro, founder and CEO. “Baseball is an amazing game and if I can make an impact, not many people get to say that is something they’ve done.”
During the pandemic, BL 101 has upped its content creation and cultural connection with almost nightly pro talks with pro ball players, influencers and others so fans can tune in in real time. Shapiro says that the likes of Delino DeShields knows he can reach a larger audience by appearing on BL 101 pages than his own platforms, linking to his fans and hearing directly from them. The young players get the opportunity to meet with players and others they wouldn’t otherwise get to.
So, then, remaining focused on creating content, especially on TikTok, that entertains young fans becomes all-encompassing. “We want them to remain on our page and be in our atmosphere,” says Josh Gerson, a lifelong friend of Shapiro's and the BL 101 content director. As the company continues to grow, the fans and demographics grow with it, so not only do they attempt to entertain the target demographic, but also expand to keep engaged those fans who are now into their 20s.
The brand’s bread-and-butter is Instagram and TikTok, although it still has a decent following on Facebook. The content remains clean, no cursing or explicit material, so parents can feel safe with kids watching and kids feel comfortable encouraging parents to buy them gear they see on the platform.
Clothing, then, gives fans a voice in baseball culture. Whether the Buzz the Tower cap, the Never Bunt tee or the Your Girlfriend Likes My Swing tee, BL 101 has staple items that have been around for years, popular at booths at tournaments and online. But Shapiro is also exploring new ways to give the fans items they want.
“Because we spend so much time on the content side and building relationships with kids, we see what they want to wear,” says Bill Rom, co-owner and former strength and conditioning coach for Shapiro. “We are being nimble on purpose, listening to the types of things people want and putting those out consistently, instead of designing and hoping we can give people stuff they want.”
Part of that connection comes at live events and part comes from the social media interaction. Using social media, BL 101 has even created a focus group within its followers and can use its larger platform as a testing ground. Recently, Shapiro asked during “What If Wednesday” what followers thought of headbands, offering six different styles for discussion. The feedback will turn into product, launching in a couple of weeks and building buzz in the meantime.
“You can see what the kids are wearing, and you can see what they want,” Shapiro says. Knowing how kids train, what they wear on and off the field allows BL 101 to strike a balance between understanding what players need and what Shapiro thinks they need.
This new approach to releasing product has BL 101 focusing on single items, one at a time, not launching entire collections. This allows BL 101 to promote a new item—the new windbreaker styles have been flying off the BL 101 shelves—singularly and then continue to get feedback on both that product and what should come next.
Rom says BL 101 is in tune with fans at every angle, working to make media and content the young fan wants to consume and then creating apparel product they want to wear, all in a collaborative way that creates a more robust cultural connection between brand, fans and sport.
“How do we hope to connect with our biggest fans and players?” Rom asks. “We hear them.”
As BL 101 grew from 5,000 Instagram followers to a seven-figure business, Shapiro had to learn how to manage that money, from accounting to inventory to employees. He’s grown and continues to hone his strategies, whether in content or products. He expects the next two years will be focused on TikTok, continuing his strategy of using a free platform to create more exposure, brand awareness and, thus, sales. “It is what is next and what is going to propel us to grow,” he says, “and how we have been growing.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.