Base­ball lags be­hind other sports in prod­uct pitch­men

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Tim Lemke

PHILADEL­PHIA — There are no base­ball play­ers with $80 mil­lion shoe con­tracts, and to Ma­jor League Base­ball of­fi­cials, that’s a big prob­lem.

With the num­ber of black Amer­i­can base­ball play­ers on the de­cline, base­ball of­fi­cials know they must find a way to make the sport’s top ath­letes more vis­i­ble in com­mer­cials and other me­dia.

Some play­ers, like Derek Jeter of the New York Yan­kees, have man­aged to cash in on their on-field suc­cess with big en­dorse­ments, but the ma­jor­ity of other top black stars have been slow to ben­e­fit.

“Have I been able to cash in on a thing? N and O,” said Jimmy Rollins, the All-Star short­stop of the Philadel­phia Phillies. “It’s up to the big com­pa­nies — they’re the ones that make the de­ci­sions. I don’t per­son­ally get frus­trated, but there are cer­tain play­ers that com­pa­nies can and should be [mar­ket­ing] that they avoid.”

Clearly, Madi­son Av­enue has no trou­ble work­ing with black play­ers from the NBA. For­mer Chicago Bulls su­per­star Michael Jor­dan still is one of the most mar­ketable ath­letes in the world. Other play­ers, in­clud­ing LeBron James of the Cleve­land Cav­a­liers and Kobe Bryant of the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers, hold mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts with a variety of com­pa­nies.

The big ques­tion base­ball of­fi­cials are weigh­ing is how di­rectly in­volved the league should be in pro­mot­ing in­di­vid­ual play­ers.

“The NBA gets much too much credit for mar­ket­ing their play­ers. They don’t mar­ket their play­ers; the shoe com­pa­nies do,” said Jim­mie Lee Solomon, base­ball’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for busi­ness op­er­a­tions. “The shoe com­pa­nies made a re­al­iza­tion when they were deal­ing with [Jor­dan] that they weren’t just mar­ket­ing to the bas­ket­ball player but to a wide au­di­ence. Be­cause when schools started al­low­ing kids to wear sneak­ers to school, then guys like me and you who couldn’t play like Mike could look like Mike.”

Base­ball’s prob­lem, of course, is that it’s hard to mar­ket a base­ball cleat the same way as a bas­ket­ball shoe.

“The shoe kind of sep­a­rates the NBA from other sports,” said Scott San­ford, se­nior tal­ent di­rec­tor with Davie-Brown Tal­ent, a Dal­las-based firm that matches celebri­ties with ad­ver­tis­ers. “What they can pro­vide is an of­fi­cially ap­proved item that ev­ery­day peo­ple might use. The cleat has a lim­ited use.”

Al­though some sport­ing-goods com­pa­nies are happy to out­fit many top base­ball play­ers, few play­ers are part of com­pa­nies’ na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns.

“I’m Nike from head to toe, so that part’s taken care of,” Rollins said. “But I haven’t done any Nike com­mer­cials. Nike would rather spend their money on bas­ket­ball.”

Base­ball play­ers, in gen­eral, are not rated as highly as other ath­letes in terms of mar­ketabil­ity. The Davie-Brown In­dex, which gives scores to celebri­ties based on their at­trac­tive­ness to ad­ver­tis­ers, gen­er­ally gives the high­est scores to bas­ket­ball play­ers such as Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

The top-rated celebri­ties in the Davie-Brown In­dex re­ceive scores of more than 80 on a 100-point scale. Jeter, the high­est-rated ac­tive base­ball player, has a score of 57.7. Alex Ro­driguez, the game’s high­est-paid player and Jeter’s team­mate, scores a 45.9. O’Neal, by com­par­i­son, scored an 81.4.

“It’s just not that great a time to do your own mar­ket­ing in base­ball right now,” said Mr. San­ford, who blamed the re­cent con­tro­versy over steroid use in the game. “I think it’s just a tough time. Base­ball’s strug­gling.”

Ryan Howard, the Phillies’ first base­man and last year’s Na­tional League Most Valu­able Player, said he does not sense the league does any­thing spe­cial to pro­mote black play­ers.

“Most guys are do­ing their own stuff,” he said. “Most guys are tak­ing it upon them­selves to get out there.”

Rollins agreed: “We just have to sit back and play the sport and try to find dif­fer­ent ways to reach black play­ers in the neigh­bor­hood and the com­mu­nity. But look­ing for base­ball to help — I don’t re­ally think that’s the an­swer.”

Dave Buck, the Phillies’ se­nior vice pres­i­dent for mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing and sales, said the team has re­ceived no di­rec­tive from the league to do more with Rollins and Howard.

“We don’t do any­thing ex­tra be­cause they’re African-Amer­i­can,” Mr. Buck said. “They’re great base­ball play­ers. No one has to show us there’s wis­dom in pro­mot­ing th­ese guys.”

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“Have I been able to cash in on a thing? N and O,” said Philadel­phia Phillies short­stop Jimmy Rollins.

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