MLB looks to stars to con­nect

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ron­ald Blum

MI­AMI» Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge have be­come the face of baseball as a gleam­ing, mod­ernist ball­park and a city known for its Latino cul­ture host the All-Star Game for the first time. Af­ter decades of fall­ing be­hind, the sport fi­nally has stepped up its na­tional pro­mo­tion.

There’s huge room for im­prove­ment: Not one player from baseball is among the 100 most fa­mous ath­letes in the world.

Le­Bron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods dom­i­nate wa­ter-cooler talk far more than Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, the start­ing pitch­ers in Tues­day night’s game at Mar­lins Park.

“I feel he’s won 15 rings,” Harper said of Brady on Mon­day. “If you win, you’re go­ing to get no­ticed.”

Ma­jor League Baseball hopes to break into a wider pub­lic con­scious­ness with this new gen­er­a­tion — for the first time since at least 1961 there are no all-stars with at dou­ble-digit selections.

Af­ter Rob Man­fred suc­ceeded Bud Selig as com­mis­sioner two years ago, MLB re­quired spon­sors to mar­ket top tal­ent. But the tra­di­tion-bound sport is still try­ing to rebound from a quar­ter-cen­tury of la­bor wars that ended in the 1990s.

“There is lit­tle doubt that top baseball play­ers are less rec­og­nized than the top ath­letes in many other sports,” said Marc Ga­nis, pres­i­dent of the marketing com­pany Sportscorp. “Bas­ket­ball play­ers and the NBA set many trends and are rel­e­vant in pop cul­ture. NFL dom­i­nates in the U.S. and the sec­ond-most pop­u­lar sport is also foot­ball — col­lege foot­ball.

“In the U.S. and in the Euro­cen­tric, English-pri­mary world, bas­ket­ball, NFL, soc­cer, ten­nis and at cer­tain times golf stars con­nect more with fans, es­pe­cially younger fans, and spon­sors who covet those fans,” he said.

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