Would MLB see more players being marketed
if Jordan had made it in baseball?
If there is a glaring hole in MLB’s armor, it might well be its marketability. Sure, Derek Jeter has G2 athletic drink, Avon deodorant, and Gillette razors, but can that really compare to the marketability of players in the NBA, most notably LeBron James?
With the MLBPA and Aramark opening a prototype store at Citi Field that focuses on player-only merchandise, Ken Belson of the New York Times posed the question:
Is MLB marketing itself as well as it could be, compared to other leagues, most notably the NBA? (see Union to Open Ballpark Store to Promote Star Players)
I immediately thought of Michael Jordan, and then Nike.
As quoted in today’s edition of the New York Times:
Baseball has lagged other professional sports in the promotion of its biggest stars, other industry analysts said, something the union is eager to correct.
“We don’t have a Kobe or LeBron in baseball,” said Maury Brown, the president of the Business of Sports Network, a series of Web sites devoted to sports business research. He added, “If Nike put even half the effort it does for LeBron James into Albert Pujols, they’d do well.”
The NBA will be forever indebted to Nike for taking a dynamic North Carolina Tarheel basketball player and turning him into sports’ greatest icon. If not for Nike, there would be no Brand Jordan. Without Brand Jordan, Nike would not see basketball shoe wear as their number one commodity.
So, what if?
What if the great experiment by Jerry Reinsdorf, Jordan, and the Chicago White Sox had succeeded and Jordan had been able to make the transition to baseball? This isn’t to say that baseball apparel can be leveraged to the point that basketball shoes are at the casual wear level, but given Jordan’s iconic status at the time that he made his attempts at baseball, it seems obvious that MLB would have become the extended benefactor just as the NBA was, and still is, by way of Nike.
That’s a key piece missing for MLB. To date, there hasn’t been a push by a massive corporate presence on the level that Nike has produced through athlete sponsorships such as Jordan, and now LeBron James. Then, maybe then, MLB might see something remotely close to what the NBA has seen in terms of promoting its star players. Until then, MLB will continue to be an underling, waiting for its iconic player to come along.
Baseball still has a ways to go in terms of marketing itself, but it may not all be MLB's fault. It may be that the stars simply have not yet fully aligned for the game. Barry Bonds could have been that player, but his caustic personality made it impossible. McGwire didn't seem to have that mass appeal that Jordan had, and Alex Rodriguez, once an enigma as a marketable commodity, flew the plane into the mountain by dating the likes of Madonna, and now admitting to steroid use.
Until then, the modern day Roy Hobbs will have to wait, even if Hobbs couldn't hold a candle to Jordan's incredible appeal.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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