It's back. The MLB Fan Cave is back for the 2012 season. But it won't be the same Fan Cave experience we saw during the 2011 season. The process for selecting the participants is different. The number of participants is different. And there will be a Survivor-like elimination of participants as the season moves forward.
One unanswered question is whether the Fan Cave will continue to ignore nearly half of baseball's fan base: women.
Ten years ago, according to this Gallup Poll, 37 percent of women self-identified as baseball fans, compared to 49 percent for men. But the trends were moving in opposite directions, with women's baseball fandom increasing while men's fandom was decreasing. In the last few years, many media outlets have reported that women now comprise 45-47 percent of all baseball fans, making it the most gender-balanced of the four main professional sports.
Granted, women baseball fans come in all stripes. Some keep score at the game, while listening to the radio broadcast in their ears. Some have favorite players instead of favorite teams. Some can name every member of her team's 40-man roster. Some can't even name the starting rotation. Some love the Victoria's Secret-inspired team gear. Some wouldn't be caught dead in it, or in any gear that's pink or sparkly.
The 2011 version of the Fan Cave offered nothing for the score-keeping, numbers-crunching, roster-watching woman fan. Well, if you don't count insults to her baseball intelligence.
The Fan Cave kicked off on Opening Day with ... what else? A visit from Victoria's Secret supermodel Chanel Iman. Because when you think about baseball's Opening Day, you think racy lingerie, right? Perhaps it shouldn't have been a big surprise, given MLB.com's description of the two FanCave inhabitants -- Mike O'Hara and Ryan Wagner -- as the two Cavemen.
And on it went.
Take a look at the Fan Cave photo album for the 2011 season. How many women do you see? Now count the number of women who are not models or singers or actresses? In revealing clothing? Do you see any women baseball fans? Or women baseball writers? Or women baseball analysts?
How about the Fan Cave twitter feed? The Fan Cave was all about interacting with baseball fans through all forms of social media. Indeed, MLB proudly reported that the FanCave generated 100 million social media impressions throughout the season via Twitter, Facebook and the like. How did the "two Cavemen" stay informed on the goings on in baseball? Who did they follow on the Fan Cave Twitter feed?
As of this morning, the Fan Cave was following 1,283 people on Twitter. Only 130 of those are women, give or take a few that were hard to figure out. Of those 130, about 40 are women baseball writers, bloggers or radio/TV analysts, a good number but it could be much higher. I'd guess another 40 or so are women baseball fans. The rest? Five Playboy models. Five Miss USA contestants. Noted baseball aficionados Kourtney Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart, and Snooki from Jersey Shore. And so on.
It wasn't a Fan Cave in 2011. It was a Man Cave. And it offered very little for many women baseball fans -- you know, the fans who are rapidly increasing their numbers while male fans fall away.
Or maybe that's the point.
Maybe the Fan Cave is MLB's effort to stem the tide, to re-engage with male baseball fans, particularly younger ones, who've turned their attention to other sports and activities. If so, it's a worth goal. But the plan didn't need to be executed in a way that engages male fans and alienates women fans. That's just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
So what's in store for the Fan Cave in 2012? Changes are afoot. From the official MLB press release on Fan Cave 2012:
To increase fan engagement even further in 2012, fans will be involved in the process of selecting the [Fan Cave] contestants . . . . [T]he top fan-submitted videos will be posted [online] where fans will have the opportunity to vote for those they find most entertaining in order to select the 2012 MLB Fan Cave contestants.
-- snip --
[C]ontestants will begin the season in the MLB Fan Cave and watch every single MLB game each day while chronicling their experiences online through videos, blogs and social media. Along the way, they will compete against one another over the course of the baseball season in a series of challenges, with fans online helping decide who gets to stay in the Fan Cave and play host to the baseball stars and celebrities who will visit throughout the season.
Plenty of women baseball fans will apply. I've seen many of their application videos on YouTube looking for support even before the voting begins. And I'm sure MLB will select at least a few women as the top fan-submitted videos.
If voters select some women Fan Cave participants, what does Opening Day 2012 look like? A woman in the Fan Cave interviewing a Victoria's Secret supermodel about baseball? Or tweeting with Snooki about the starting lineups? Or planning a picnic ballpark lunch with Martha Stewart? What numbers-crunching, roster-watching, score-keeping woman baseball fan wants that assignment? Or watch that in video blog?
Unless the Fan Cave is really a Fan Cave in 2012 -- and not a Man Cave with a few more women baseball fans sprinkled in -- it will continue to engage male baseball fans at the cost of women baseball fans.
And that's not good for baseball.