Gamification in a Sports Setting. Can it Work?

Right off the bat, this article title probably doesn’t make much sense. How does gamification work in a setting that’s already a game? Well, thanks to the San Francisco Giants, and the St. Louis Cardinals, we have an answer.

Baseball has always been, and always will be the sport where statistics hold the most importance. With baseball cards, fantasy involvement, and countless online leaderboards, fans have always been eager to know who has the most home runs, and a host of other categories.

Even the players know their statistics on a daily basis. Before every at-bat, a jumbotron flashes various metrics that define how their season is going. Even with the constant reminders of how they’re performing, that by itself isn’t enough to motivate them to increase production.

Of course, some of that has to do with the fact that their performance isn’t entirely dependent on their own skill. Hitting a baseball that’s traveling 90+ MPH, and moving on two different planes is incredibly difficult. Yet, Hensley Meulens, San Francisco’s hitting coach, did come up with a way to make his players better.

Gamification within a game

“Since spring, Giants hitters have taken part in a friendly in-house competition devised by Meulens with a real objective. Players get points for positive contributions such as moving runners over with less than two outs or driving a runner in from scoring position. They can lose points, too, in the scoring system Meulens set and tracks himself.

It brings more focus on the situational at-bats so they can get better. I’ve done it since I started coaching because I think it’s a good way to create competition and to have a player bear down once he’s up there trying to drive in a run, move the guy over or simply have a good at-bat to get on base.”

The Giants weren’t the only team to use gamification however.

“The St. Louis Cardinals [also] put a similar exercise in place for the whole season and ended up having the best average with runners in scoring position (.330) of any team since at least 1974.”

As Buster Posey put it, Meulens’ system was just “another focus tool.” This is exactly how gamification should be viewed. While the delivery system is in a gamified format, the overarching theme is employee motivation. “‘It gets people excited. ‘If people care about the badges and achievements they’re unlocking, then they’ll look forward to their work, and be more motivated to come in and do their job well.”

One of the benefits of Meulens’ system is that he tracks statistics that would never appear on a baseball card. Fans want to know who’s leading the league in home runs, not who’s best at moving a runner to third with less than two outs. Both are important, but only one is found on the top of leaderboards.

FanGraphs gamification

Under Meulens’ system, players are rewarded for doing the little things. Getting a runner in scoring position, or having a long at-bat to help their pitcher regroup are perfect examples. Maybe one day, those stats will be available on FanGraphs or Baseball Reference, but for now, those are things that only specific teams track.

The same should be true for your company when setting up your gamification platform. Converting sales and making connections are the home runs and hits of the business world, but having a great conversation and taking notes are important too. They might not show up in the final box score, but they were vital in winning the game (making a sale).

The Nike FuelBand

Another example of using gamification in a sports setting is with Nike’s FuelBand. As their website puts it “NikeFuel turns life into a sport.” On it’s own, it measures how active you stay throughout the day, and sets a benchmark for how many points you should look to tally. They also added a social component, which further drives the user to compete for a “high score.”

If John in marketing accrued 3,000 points on Thursday, well that’s just not going to fly.

“Using the technological trend effectively is made possible through the Nike+ app. The app allows connections between friends and colleagues by creating a space for users to show off their achievements and post scores. This communication platform is a revolutionary network that provides social and gamification business implications.”

The FuelBand is exactly what businesses strive to create with their own gamification platforms. A system that encourages competition, but at the same time doesn’t cause employees to root against one another. You want your colleagues to sell as much as possible, and you also want to beat their benchmark.

Gamificiation is all around us, whether we realize it or not. While the term is fairly new, the practice has been around for millennia. While you might be reluctant to turn to a gamified platform to increase productivity, the bottom line is gamification brings positive results.


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Matt Goldman

Matt Goldman

Matt Goldman is a Content Marketer/Social Media Strategist for Tenfold. His writing has focused on social selling, marketing, as well as gamification.

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