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Roundtable Discussion: The Marketability of MLB Athletes

Roundtable Discussion: The Marketability of MLB Athletes

6 minute read

  • With a number of young emerging stars, Major League Baseball is well-positioned in terms of marketable talent.

  • While Major League Baseball has a number of young and talented star players, the sport has unwritten codes of conduct that restrict players behavior on the field.

  • Additional factors including roster size and frequency of games played make it difficult for fans to become familiar with talented players throughout the league.


Earlier this year, SportsBusinessDaily published an article highlighting the most marketable players in Major League Baseball. Published at the start of the MLB season, the list was based on a survey of corporate brand managers, marketing and branding executives, agencies, sports business professors, analysts and media members. With MLB Playoffs around the corner, MKTG sits down to discuss the most marketable players in baseball, and the marketability of MLB players moving forward.

 The following is a transcribed discussion between MKTG’s Matthew Klar, Geoff Biss, Matthew Soteroff, Lisa Lui, and Kyle Goncalves.

Geoff

Who on SportsBusinessDaily’s list of most marketable players stands out to you as potential endorser, and why?

Lisa

Anthony Rizzo stands out for me. He’s the most marketable player because he’s not just a champion on the field, but off the field as well. He’s got an amazing personal story and personality which brands look for. When Rizzo was in the minor leagues, he was diagnosed as Hodgkin Lymphoma. He not just battled and survived the disease - he thrived, winning a World Series. Publicly, he’s not afraid to show emotion, and that humanizes him, allowing a lot of people to connect to him.

Matt S.

I believe Bryce Harper is the most marketable player in Major League Baseball. During Bryce Harper’s post-game interviews, he would wear these ‘Make Baseball Fun Again’ hats. That to me is what baseball is starving for. We’re seeing a movement in other sports like golf – where you see young athletes like Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth bringing a level of swagger and cool factor to a sport that is traditionally archaic. That is what baseball needs. It needs athletes with an attitude. Too many baseball players are overly humble in post-game interviews. When it comes to working with a brand on a national campaign, I don’t think anyone comes close to Bryce Harper and the cool factor he brings to the game and brands he partners with.

Geoff

Giancarlo Stanton has the potential to be the most marketable player in the league. Personal stories and personality are a huge factor, but ultimately so is on-field success. Stanton is the highest paid player in Major League Baseball for a reason, and is leading the league in home runs by a wide margin this season. Unfortunately, he’s suffered a lot of injuries throughout his career, which has limited his marketability. Statistically, Stanton is one of the most dominant hitters. Then again, if you asked me to draw what he looks like, I would have a more difficult time than if you asked me to draw a number of athletes in other sports.

Matt S.

That has a lot to do with the nature of the game. It’s not like basketball, where a player will be on the court and be the focus for almost the entire game. In baseball, you can be a star player, but you still have to wait 3 innings to get up to bat.

Lisa

It’s a fight for mindshare. When you think about the number of players on a baseball team, and multiply that by the number of teams in the league – there are so many players. It’s hard to know and remember each athlete. Also, in baseball, it’s especially a team effort. In other sports, there’s a perception where a single-player can carry a team.

Geoff

Is there a particular endorsement deal or campaign involving a Major League Baseball player that you like most? Why?

Matt S.

I really liked Gatorade’s Secret to Victory campaign. The campaign leveraged a handful of high-profile athletes, and highlighted the defeat they faced in their lives in order to achieve success. One player that was included in this campaign was Chicago Cubs’ player Kyle Schwarber. Gatorade extended the campaign from a simple commercial spot into a branded podcast. Hosted by Dominique Foxworth, each podcast episode focused on an athlete featured in the commercial, discussing the defeat they faced, and how they used that failure to fuel their success. The campaign did a really good job of telling individual stories, and humanizing a player like Schwarber.

Geoff

I really like the campaign involving Kris Bryant and Express clothing. In addition to a commercial spot, Bryant appears in campaigns across print, digital, social media, and retail platforms. Before I even knew about the endorsement deal between Bryant and Express, I saw a large print ad of Bryant modeling a suit in one of their stores. As we’ve seen over the past couple of years, partnerships between athletes and fashion brands is a growing trend as brands like Express allow athletes like Bryant an opportunity to show their personalities off-the-field. Bryant’s style, charisma, and ability to connect with young-minded consumers makes him an ideal ambassador for Express as it seeks to stand out in a crowded retail landscape. 

Which athlete do you think will make SportsBusinessDaily’s list of most marketable players in 2018?

Matt K.

Let’s all rise for the judge … Aaron Judge. The Yankees are bigger than baseball, yet this year’s list doesn’t have a New York Yankee on it. Baseball needs its next Derek Jeter. Part of an athlete’s marketability is based on the the market in which he or she plays. There’s something special about having one of the best athletes in the league playing in the league’s largest market. Judge has the All-American image, and if he continues to progress, there’s no doubt a number of brands will want to work with him.

Matt S.

Even though Aaron Judge has had a bit of a slump since the All-Star break, he’s still one of the most popular players in the league. Baseball fans love a slugger, and he excelled at the Home Run Derby. People get excited about that, and you don’t have to be from New York to be a fan of him. Not to mention, his size makes him immediately noticeable. He stands out from the rest of the players on the field. He also seems to be incredibly humble and good with the media. He has all the ingredients.

Kyle

I think Marcus Stroman has an opportunity to be on the list in 2018. He already has his own apparel line, music in the works and he plays with a ton of passion. Also, he is incredibly active across multiple social media platforms - he screams millennial! While he’s not originally from Toronto, he posts a lot about the city, and about things which are relevant to his Toronto fans like Drake’s OVO Music Fest. He has done a great job connecting with fans in his home market. Baseball fans are so loyal, and he has leveraged that loyalty.

Matt S.

I think another player who will be on the list in 2018 is Shohei Otani. He currently plays for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan. He is expected to leave Japan for Major League Baseball next year, and he’s only 22. He’s one of the best pitchers in the league, and he’s also one of the best outfielders and designated hitter in the league. No one in Major League Baseball has been a star pitcher and star hitter at the same time. International players like Ichiro and Yu Dravish have attracted numerous brands after transitioning to Major League Baseball.

Matt K.

Players who comes from Japan not only attract personal endorsement deals, but they also attract international sponsors for the team. Ichiro, for example, triggered a massive amount of companies to do deals with the Seattle Mariners. It unlocks a whole other revenue stream for the team which they play.

Geoff

Around this time last year, we wrote an article about the regionalization of Major League Baseball (how the league is one of the most regionalized leagues in North America). In your opinion, is the MLB well-positioned in terms of marketable talent?

Matt S.

I think the league is well-positioned, but like we said before, I believe a change in culture is necessary moving forward. The sport is bound and restricted by a number of unwritten rules. If we ever see players like Jose Bautista or Yasiel Puig show emotion on the field, they’re shunned for it. We don’t see a lot of originality or unique personalities. If MLB was able to promote and encourage that charisma, it would be better positioned in terms of marketable talent. A player like Mike Trout, who is a generational talent, isn’t as marketable as he could be if we knew more about his style and personality. Also, the games are too long, and it’s easy not to care when they play so many games each year.

Local broadcasts are doing well, but national events like the All-Star Game are declining. Baseball needs to give you a reason to watch a team outside of your market. One way to do that, is to more effectively market their superstars. Basketball fans will watch any of the top 10 players perform on a national broadcast, even if it’s not their team, because the NBA does a great job of giving their players a platform. Baseball needs to take a more league-driven mentality, and prop their players up so you’ll be encouraged to watch more out-of-market games.  

Matt K.

 

 

 

 

Matt S.

It’s hard for MLB to market head-to-head matchups like the NBA. For example, you never see commercials like “Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper” because they’re never on the field at the same time.

Lisa

With the high number of games played in a season, you can pretty much watch your team every night.  That means you’re generally not watching other teams and the sheer volume makes it hard to keep up on a league-wide level. That’s not the case with sports like basketball or football.  NFL teams play once a week and most of the games are on Sunday.  That gives you the opportunity to follow your team but still stay current with the other teams.  On Sunday, you can watch several games back-to-back and even second screen the other action. Sunday is your football day. There is a ritual behind it. That’s just not possible for baseball because of the schedule. Even with great young talent, I don’t think that alone would solve the regionalization of the sport.

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