Monday, March 28, 2011

Scribe's Baseball Week: The Souring Marketing Mix

If you’re not a marketing communications professional or an unabashed Jeter Girl, you may have missed Nielsen’s recent news about its ten most marketable baseball players. Unsurprisingly, a few Yankees populate the list – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez – as well as some of the sport’s best players such as St. Louis’ Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer of Minnesota and Seattle’s Ichiro. You can check out the entire list and the methodology behind compiling the list here.

As usual, this stuff is more intriguing to professionals in the field than fans. After all, all you care about is performance. In fact, the endorsements may be a reason why a player is more reviled than respected by some fans (apparently, a lot of football fans ‘hate’ Peyton Manning). However, a major reason why this is such a big deal is that since the Home Run record chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the advertising community has struggled immensely trying to find one or two baseball players they can build a campaign around.

Sure, Derek Jeter has become the go-to-guy for the sport. His success on and off the diamond have provided him opportunities abound, especially in this so-called post-steroids era where big home run hitters no longer become automatic pitchmen. [Note: Jeter's off the diamond life is acknowledged because, for better or worse, some people do admire the playboy aura].

Yet, there’s something to be said that this 2009 analysis from the revered Maury Brown from The Biz of Baseball still resonates, even after what was a fantastic 2010 season. Brown brought up matters that are intrinsic to how the game it played, yet other factors such as the waning interest from the black community and waiting for a Michael Jordan-like or even a Charles Barkley-like figure haven’t changed.

The marketing issues are probably more damning for the sport and advertisers because they’re still pushing their endorsement might into Latino communities. Although there has been success with these communities – save for soccer/football, no sport in North America has a greater population of Latin players – there may still be language barriers that make it challenging for Latin players to ‘crossover’ to the mainstream or for non-Spanish speakers to have a presence in Spanish enclaves. And let’s not forget the annual conversation about the ethnic gains and declines in the game.

This all prompts some questions. Feel free to consider as many as you wish.
  1. What can be done about it from MLB’s standpoint? From the advertising community?
  2. Does it even matter that a baseball player – or any athlete, rather – endorses a product? If so, why?
  3. Does a player need to be Jeter or Pujols or Mauer to get your attention?
  4. Theoretical one here: while ‘crossover’ is typically about entering to mainstream, is it possible for a non-Latino player to endorse in the opposite direction?
Ponder away and ask yourselves: did Jeter replace the wrong athlete in the Gillette ads two years ago or what?!?!

Say What?!?!: And let it be known that this old Dick's Sporting Goods ad with Ryan Howard and B.J. Upton has the best ending in sports endorsement history.

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