‘Mookie should be a household name’: MLB must seize opportunity to make its players famous

first_imgMORE: Watch live MLB games all season long on fuboTV (7-day free trial)Hence the “Harper-Trout 2020” campaign-style T-shirts made by BreakingT and other companies. Of course, a couple of weeks later, Trout signed a $430 million extension with the Angels and those dreams died. After I finished with the explanation, he just smiled and said, “Ah. I saw the Trout on there and thought maybe it was a fishing shirt.”Nope, just the two biggest names in baseball, guys who had — within the past few months — signed contracts worth $760 million. Names and numbers that should have been part of America’s conscious, both because of their outstanding talent and performance and because of the shock value of ALL THAT MONEY, but neither registered with him.The lack of player recognition is an issue for baseball. From a BBC Sport article earlier this month  with the headline “Mike Trout: The brilliant $426.5m MLB star most Americans don’t know” …According to the market research firm Q Scores, 22% of the US general public is familiar with Trout. Basketball star Curry and NFL quarterback Drew Brees, on the other hand, are over 50%.Among sport fans, Trout reaches the 50% mark. But Tom Brady and LeBron James, for instance, have near universal recognition.Yikes, right? No wonder the pressure-washer guy thought my shirt was about a fish. The lack-of-recognition topic was addressed by both MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark during their separate meetings with BBWAA members in Cleveland the morning of the All-Star Game. Those two don’t share similar views on many subjects, but they seemed at least relatively aligned on this one, about what’s necessary going forward.Clark was asked specifically about Mookie Betts, a star who won last year’s AL MVP and plays in a big market (Boston), but still doesn’t have nearly the cache of NBA or NFL players.  “Mookie should be a household name. Mookie should be a one-name guy,” Clark said. “You say Ronaldo, you say Messi, you say Mookie. You should know who Mookie is. And outside of the baseball world, I don’t know how many do. So I agree with you, 100 percent, 100-plus percent, in the grand scheme of things, with respect to players who should be at the forefront of every conversation, even in conversations with non-baseball fans. No doubt about it.”At last year’s BBWAA meeting, you might recall, Manfred was asked about the marketing of Trout, and his reply raised plenty of eyebrows . “If he wants to engage and be more active in that area, I think we can help him make his brand really, really big. But he needs to make that decision that he’s prepared to engage in that area. It takes time and effort.” Even though Manfred said this year that he wouldn’t talk about baseball’s specific marketing relationship with any one player, it’s probably not a coincidence that MLB used this year’s All-Star stage to debut a powerful Mike Trout commercial. Mike Trout is exactly who he’s always been. pic.twitter.com/q7n5KoVPhw— MLB (@MLB) July 8, 2019“I will say the last 12 months, everything that we have done from a marketing perspective, from ‘Let the Kids Play’ to the postseason one, to the three new ads that were debuted yesterday … I mean, walk around Cleveland and there is no baseball signage that is not player-focused. It has been a really broad initiative out of the commissioner’s office.”Manfred wasn’t exaggerating. The faces of baseball — even some, like Harper, who didn’t make this year’s NL All-Star team — were everywhere during the All-Star events, including this massive sign spanning the intersection of Ontario and Prospect, a couple of blocks from Progressive Field. that’s a lot of all-stars pic.twitter.com/8TkxaTHYaR— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) July 9, 2019“This special event, the All-Star Game, and the marketing around it, has been tremendous,” Clark said. “I think we can do more. I think there’s an opportunity to move our players into the forefront of the conversation by connecting them with companies that are engaged and involved in our game in ways that we haven’t before.”It’s quite the change from past approaches, as Clark pointed out by telling a story from an All-Star event “five years ago or so.”“I was asked whether I thought the industry did a good job of marketing and promoting its players,” he said. “My response was that I think we could do more, particularly on the national level, that I looked forward to a day when I turn on the TV and I see our guys plastered all over every ad, with every sponsor that’s out there, when I’m not watching a baseball game. … About an hour or so after that, the league was asked the same question. And the league response was, while respecting my concerns, that the most important thing is the jersey and the logo. And it was a moment, as a retired player, that resonated for me.”And here’s the thing: Past mistakes don’t determine baseball’s future in this area. The sport has an opportunity, right now. We all watched the thrilling Home Run Derby, with rookies Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Pete Alonso vying for the title in the final round. Ronald Acuña Jr., who’s just 21, was amazing in that event, too. Add in youngsters like Fernando Tatis Jr. (20), Juan Soto (20), Gleyber Torres (22) and others, and you have a potential marketing bonanza. MORE: MLB trade deadline predictions, rumorsI asked current young superstar Francisco Lindor about the next young wave. “It’s fun because they bring a lot of excitement to the game,” Lindor said. “There are some strong boys in this year’s rookie class, those guys can hit home runs. Tatis is a special player. Vladdy is, Alonso as well, and a couple other guys. It’s fun to watch them. I like to see the different guys have success.”Clark agrees, and sees big potential.“We have a time, particularly now, where the talent level of our players is off the charts, top to bottom. There is truly an opportunity now to push our cards across and make a difference there in a way that does engage the next generation in a way that we haven’t before.”Baseball has a long way to go in terms of being more social-media-sharing friendly, but steps are being taken, at least in regard to the players. “Another piece that I would mention to you is the social media program that, I think, about 36 percent of our players have opted into,” Manfred said at the BBWAA meeting. “We make highlights available to them, easy to get to, so they can use those highlights, add their own commentary and post very quickly. They don’t pay for anything. It’s there, ready to use.” Chatting on my front walkway, the nice gentleman we hired to pressure-wash our driveway asked a question: “What’s your shirt mean?”I was wearing my “Harper-Trout 2020” T-shirt, so I launched into a quick version of the story that was a thing this spring. For roughly five minutes after the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million free-agent contract, you’ll recall, Philly fans had dreams of their favorite franchise signing Mike Trout — the best player in baseball who happens to be from nearby New Jersey and is a huge Eagles football fan — when he became a free agent after the 2020 season.  He paused. “All those efforts are directed at marketing our players.”That’s a step in the right direction.last_img read more


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