When The Biz of Baseball ran its roundtable compilation entitled, State of Major League Baseball – 2008, we got 30 responses from a broad range of people that cover the sport. None of the panelists consulted one another, yet topics intersected.
Most all of us agreed that MLB was in pretty good shape, bordering on greatness. All of us saw matters that needed tending to.
But, one of the things that many of us hit on was the topic of marketing.
Peter Abraham, Kurt Badenhausen, David Chalk, Fred Claire, Todd Radom, and myself all hit on the pluses and minuses of how MLB markets itself and the players.
But, Abraham, Badenhausen, and I hit on how the players aren’t marketed as well as they could be.
Abraham said, "Think NBA and you think Kobe and LeBron. No last names needed. You can't turn on a television during football season without seeing Peyton Manning. The face of baseball is who exactly? A-Rod? He's the guy who opted out of his contract during the World Series."
I added, “MLB is getting better at promoting the game, but is lagging when it comes to star players.”
And finally, Badenhausen said, “Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and LeBron James are all part of multiple national ad campaigns. Why aren't companies interested in baseball's best? Dice-K, Ichiro and Hideki Matsui all pull in big endorsement money in Japan, but Forbes research shows Derek Jeter to be the only American born baseball player that earns more than $3 million a year from endorsements.”
The question is, “Why aren’t MLB players marketed better?”
Some, such as Craig Calcaterra of Shysterball opined in a follow-up entitled, Marketing the Stars, “I really like that the game's superstars aren't being marketed for their own sake the way they are in the NFL or NBA. I feel this way because, in my mind at least, one of the many, many things that make baseball better than the other sports is that one player really can't make the difference. It's a team sport unlike the others in that each and every player can, theoretically speaking, get the glory depending on the game situation and how they perform..”
And, Craig could very well be right. Maybe it is the fact that baseball is more of a team effort than the other sports.
But, it gnaws on me that there are stars in the game, and many go to see them. Ichiro, Matsuzaka, Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero… they’re out there.
And, while I have never been one to bring up the topic, I look at some of the star player names, and it just makes one say, “Could their ethnicity have something to do with it?”
On the field, MLB surpasses all comers in diversity. Last year, MLB saw 239 players hail from outside of the U.S., or 28 percent of the total 855 Major League players (749 active 25-man roster players, 106 disabled or restricted Major League players). The country with the most players outside the U.S.? The Dominican Republic with 88, followed by Venezuela (52 players), Puerto Rico (29), Japan (16), Canada (14), Mexico (11) and Cuba (8).
One of MLB’s strongest assets could be a negative to Park Avenue advertisers and corporate America. Is it a language issue? Is it that Latinos or those from the Far East do not resonate with the average American household?
As Badenhausen mentioned, Jeter has great appeal. And the great opportunity for MLB was killed off by the player’s own doing; Barry Bonds could have been a marketers dream. But, PED issues aside, Bonds' personality threw a wet blanket on becoming spokesman for companies wishing to tap into a high profile sports personality.
So today, as we will most likely see Kevin Garnett, or Ray Allen plugging products in the wake of the Celtics winning the NBA Finals, MLB players continue to sit – for the most part – on the sidelines. Yes, baseball is team effort. It could be that only teams from large markets have the national television visibility needed to drive star power. The reasons are multiple. However, ethnicity is one of those to consider. After all, Joe DiMaggio plugged Mr. Coffee, and players hither and yon have been pitchmen in the past. But, with rare exception, they were white. As baseball continues to see growth internationally, it may be that MLB players will find themselves as attractive spokesmen for products. It's just that it will be outside the borders of the country MLB calls home.