With quotes appearing today in Ken Rosenthal’s column, which is the borderline NC-17 full-frontal scene to Captain Bow-Tie’s Disney french kiss dugout drop-ins on FOX (read: better, juicier), Jimmy Rollins talks about the lousy job MLB does promoting its black stars (and players in general): [FOX Sports]
“We threw a lot of good ideas out there [when we met with MLB in 2006],” Rollins said. “They had some things they were doing with Spike Lee, getting him on board with some short, mini-movie type things, something like that. Obviously, we haven’t seen any of it. Neither have the MLB fans. In short, nothing has come of it.
“You can promote yourself as a player. You can always do that. But that doesn’t help brand the game. The overall agenda was, ‘How do we brand black players in the game with baseball? It’s not an easy thing to do by any means.
“Young black kids today look to the glamour sports, what appear to be glamour sports. Take your helmet off on the sidelines, clown on the touchdowns. In the NBA, you do a dunk, give the Incredible Hulk to the crowd, things of that nature. Those things hit home. In baseball, if you hit a big home run and do anything other than run around the bases, you’re a clown.”
He had an interesting reply.
“(Justin) Upton is on his way up,” Rollins said. “Football, basketball, they take guys on their way up. They make money off them, promote them before they even make their top dollar.
“Baseball, it’s history and numbers and all that. You’re great once you’re old and out of the game. You’re good when you’re in the game. But everything comes back to, ‘Look at the history, the golden age of baseball.’
“Kids don’t care about that stuff. They weren’t even born. What’s happening now and today? Especially with the way society is, it’s about what’s happening at this very moment. Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff, it’s what’s happening now.”
Never mind the obvious miss at an opportunity to credit The Big Piece, Rollins is right on. Baseball, of all the major sports, does the worst job of promoting its players, both black and white.
Baseball is the most individual of all the sports. In fact – the SABR nerds are going to stroke themselves when they read this – it is probably the one game that could be played in a vacuum, devoid of any and all human interaction. While obviously that’s not the case, and the interaction between players, coaches, and managers is imperative and, sadly, unmeasurable, baseball is based almost entirely on individual skills: a pitcher throwing a ball, a batter hitting it, a fielder catching and throwing it, etc. Those individual moments and players should be showcased much more than they are.
Doubly worse, MLB not only passively fails to promote individual players, but they also actively destroy any non-sanctioned promotion of their players or product.
Case in point: MLBPA’s relentless pursuit of any and all semblance of copyright infringement. Obviously, you can’t put a logo and player’s name on a shirt and expect to not get slapped on the wrist, but MLB and its players association take things to a new level. There are a number of stories (some first-hand, others not) about the league and union intervening when blogs and third party vendors have put generic first names (with no logo or team connection), words (funner), and other indirect references to Major League players on shirts. Instead of allowing for the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle references to exist among the most passionate fans and thought leaders, MLB sends out Cease and Desist letters with the frequency of former creditors suing Lenny Dykstra.
Having worked for the MLB Shop for two years and once being asked to remove Nick Adenhart’s name from the customization menu so fans couldn’t purchase the recently deceased player’s jersey*, I can attest to their ridiculous pursuit of the letter of the law, rather than its spirit.
Merchandise comprises a very, very small piece of the pie, especially when it comes to player-specific apparel. The actions of a couple of mid-sized blogs and vendors promoting a local or national player are going to have far more residual benefit than the peanuts their products would generate for the league, team, or player.
*True story. Deadspin wrote about it and MLB reps told the site that “the system wouldn’t allow for it.” That’s complete bullshit. I was the person who put the names into a dropdown list that lived on GSI Commerce’s (the company who runs the online stores for all of the sports leagues) servers… and the one who was told to remove Adenhart’s name from the roster and flag any manually entry, even though hundreds of people were ordering his jersey to honor him. In fact, I even suggested to a few of the MLB folks that since there was a bit of a union issue (he technically was no longer part of the MLBPA), they should continue selling his player t-shirts and jerseys, and the donate the profits to his family or foundation- everybody wins. Never happened. That was wayyy too outside the box and one of the reasons I now work for myself, rather than a large company.
Further, MLB hawks YouTube (more here) for any video showcasing its product. Again: it’s their right to do so, but it does more harm than good. The NFL, NHL, and NBA all allow their videos on the site. Does it cost those leagues some money in the short-(and perhaps long) term? You bet. But they rightfully understand there are very few businesses that get FREE promotion, the way sports teams and leagues do. Having people celebrate (and yes, in some cases exploit) your product has positives that far outweigh the negatives. Imagine being able to watch a mashup of all of Josh Hamilton’s home runs, or Jimmy Rollins’ highlight-reel plays at shortstop? 188,000 people viewed just this one video of Michael Vick’s 2010 highlights. Imagine if that sort of free publicity could be given to baseball players.
I’ll keep going.
The reason MLB doesn’t allow their videos on YouTube is because they have their own – fairly comprehensive and very expensive – video catalog. It’s also a pain in the ass to use. It’s often very difficult to find the plays, players, and moments you're looking for. When you do, the video player leaves a lot to be desired. Baseball is just oozing potential to implement a feature Hulu uses, which allows users to cut up any video they want and place it on third-party websites… provided you put up with a 30 second ad before it starts. Everybody wins.
MLB recently started letting blogs embed videos, but the ones available with this feature are chosen seemingly at random and are often only blatant PR clips, rather than on-field action. Again, imagine being able to embed a video of every one of Cliff Lee’s strikeouts- free player specific promotion.
Those are but just two examples of the larger issues of which Rollins speaks. The NHL and NFL build matchups around players, MLB builds them around teams. Hell, I blog for a living, and while I admittedly focus my attention a little too much on local teams, I shouldn’t be someone who is caught off guard at how good an up-and-coming pitcher is when he walks into CBP. As a 28-year-old sports fan and blogger, I’m right in their target demo. If word didn’t reach me, it didn’t reach anyone.
Championing the past is great and all, but like Rollins said, it’s not exactly cool. Give us flashy graphics, oversized billboards, and the go-ahead to produce some viral videos. It would only help… both the players and the fans.