Each season, it seems that the All-Star Game’s selection process is criticized when 1-2 players are inexplicably snubbed from the team despite incredibly strong performances. This year was no different, as Andrew McCutchen became the one player that many columnists fought for, including authors on this site. I recently outlined McCutchen’s breakout earlier this week. In the comment section of that article, one of the FanGraphs readers, BIP, asked whether lack of awareness about McCutchen’s season was due to the fact that Major League Baseball does a terrible job promoting its star players. Inspired by that query, let’s take a look at some of the issues surrounding baseball’s current marketing strategy.
Before we look at the current marketing strategies employed by Major League Baseball, however, let’s think about what players are currently baseball’s most recognizable stars. I would argue that two of the names that immediately come to mind are Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols. Though neither player participates in many endorsements, they are both immediately recognizable by even the most casual baseball fans.
There’s nothing wrong with those players being the most recognizable either. Whether you love him or hate him, Jeter plays on the most popular team in baseball, and has certainly done enough in his career to deserve the praise despite his declining numbers. Albert Pujols has been arguably the best player in baseball over the past decade, and seems like an acceptable choice as well. But where does that leave baseball’s rising stars?
Clearly, these players lack the exposure they deserve. When is the last time you saw Hanley Ramirez, Justin Upton or Clayton Kershaw promoted heavily in an ad campaign or even in an upcoming game promotion? Promoting these players seems like a no-brainer for MLB. Not only could they usher in younger fans, but they would be promoting the best future talents in the game. Seems like a win-win, right?
Instead, Major League Baseball has adopted a different strategy — Brian Wilson’s beard. While that article is obviously meant to be satirical, there’s actually a lot of truth in the piece. Major League Baseball took it even further with Wilson, however, as they featured the San Francisco Giants on The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants, which premiered on Showtime last night. While there’s no doubt that Wilson is an interesting character, he’s also a 29-year-old relief pitcher who tossed 74.2 innings for his team last season. That’s not really the type of player that exemplifies longevity in the sport.
If Major League Baseball wanted to adopt a more player-friendly marketing approach — which focused on both current and future stars — they should look at the NBA. The NBA does a tremendous job when it comes to promoting their biggest stars. Think of the last 50 NBA commercials you’ve seen; how many are built around Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant (there are others, but those players immediately come to mind). The NBA does a great job of featuring their elite players in marketing and promotions. Can baseball say the same?
In fairness, baseball has recently become more receptive to promoting its future stars. Their handling of both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper at least shows that there is some willingness to promote tomorrow’s stars. At the same time, it’s clear that the casual fans — the ones that might vote on an All-Star Game — aren’t always aware of some of the elite performers in the game. Perhaps baseball wants to focus less on individual players and stress that baseball is a team game- that’s their prerogative. But it seems like they are doing themselves a huge disservice by neglecting the future stars — and even the current superstars — in their sport.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.