Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Does Papi Play in Peoria?

Maury Brown responds to both my post, and the many voices in Monday's roundtable, discussing the marketing, or lack thereof, of baseball's biggest stars. And his view is likely to spark a whole lot of discussion. Working off of my view that the team aspects of baseball tend to depress the attractiveness of individual players as pitchmen, Maury says:
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
hale 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 Ave. 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?

While I still think the game's dynamics are the biggest consideration -- when you use a baseball player in a commercial you can't show your product pitchman dominating an opponent in a quick montage as easily as you can show a basketball player dunking on someone -- I think there is a lot of truth to what Maury is saying. For proof, just look (or don't look) at Yao Ming's utilization as a pitchman in the U.S. Yes, he's in ads, but they're like novelty bits more than endorsements in the truest sense of the term. The European stars are virtually MIA.

Not that the ethnicity of endorsers is the only demographic factor at work. I've not seen the actual numbers recently, but I get the strong sense that baseball fans -- this one included -- are simply older and stodgier than your average NBA or NFL fan. As we've so often heard, advertisers are interested in going after twenty somethings. While ShysterBall readers are a savvy lot, my guess is that your average Nike, Red Bull, or PlayStation purchasers wouldn't know who David Wright was even if he showed up in their kitchen in-uniform and started making omelets. Not so with Kobe Bryant.


themarksmith said...

They would if they started using them in advertisements. Big Papi is in a Dick's commercial.

Crowhop said...

Does hockey not also have the same issues? I think the major reason hockey hasn’t caught on in America, as much as any other conceivable reason, is the fact that the players are guys who’s names are spelled and pronounced funny.
Being able to relate to a person is the most important issue in advertising, and popularity, in general. Joe White Guy wants and needs to be able to say, “that could be me” or “there’s a guy I’d like to have over to my bbq”. Basketball is another example of this. The popularity of basketball is greatly diminished from what it was even a decade ago and it is not from the absence of Jordan. It is a result of the NBA’s marketing strategy to the inner city and the Hip-Hop culture, which is lost on most of the people who can actually afford to go to the games.
I don’t think it is an issue of ‘racism’, but I do think there is a cultural disconnect which must be acknowledged in all sports.

JDS said...

The "ethnic" factor I think is very much influenced by the LANGUAGE factor -- each of the stars Maury mentions (Ichiro, Dice-K, Papi, Vlad) have English as their second language, and while I think Big Papi's smile "translates" well enough so that an audience could accept him saying something like "Just do eeet!" or "Domino's Pizza, for zee Beeg Papi in you," it's something that most advertisers want to avoid. Vlad is notorious, apparently, for not even TRYING to speak English because he's very shy about it.

Hence, we see Jeter quite a bit -- even John Smoltz on those home improvement commercials -- and quite a bit of the English speakers in baseball-related promos and ads ("Chicks dig the long ball"), but if you see one of the international stars chances are they are only smiling.

Pete Toms said...

Crowhop, interesting subject.

On one hand, the NBA ( like the NFL ) has been making efforts to degangster their labor force. Stern's appeal to leave your guns at home, stricter enforcement of dress code ( ie. less hip hop fashion ). Goodell's cracking down on a number of players - most notably Pac Man ( 1 word? )

On the other hand I recall that sales of Iverson merch increased noticably once after one of his violent off the field misdemeanors.

It's a double edged sword. The hip hop / gangster persona has a lot of appeal beyond black ghettos. Fifty Cent plays here ( Ottawa ) in the biggest arena we have ( NHL size ) to sold out crowd. That crowd is overwhelmingly populated by upper middle class white kids. This city has it's racial / economic ghettos but they are relatively small compared to larger cities.

To Craig & Maury, I'll agree that the MLB stars don't cash in on their fame off the field on the same scale as their peers in the NFL & NBA. I would argue though that MLB is extremely popular with sponsors. There aren't the big network deals that you see for the NFL but cumulatively amongst the 30 ballparks, the 2600? ( approx ) games that are televised mostly regionally, radio broadcasts...there is big time corporate dollars flowing into MLB.

Rob said...

The better question, from a baseball standpoint, is: Which team is being run by the dumbass who can't count to 25?