Letters to Rob Manfred, Part 2: Promote MLB’s Brightest Stars, Maybe Place Bets on Mookie
As discussed in Part 1 of our “Letters to Rob Manfred” series, the game of baseball is doing just fine. In fact, it’s doing better than fine, it’s making a lot of money. So why is the commissioner messing with the game?
In my first letter, I implored Manfred to do a better job hyping the game and reaching out to fans of the internet age. People don’t consume media the same way they used to, and baseball isn’t nearly as good as its professional sports counterparts. While I focused primarily on hyping the game itself in my initial letter, my second missive will beseech the commish to specifically use the star power at his disposal.
Dear Mr. Manfred,
Some of your game’s brightest superstars have just signed extensions to stay with their respective teams for a very long time. Now that the league knows where these guys are going to be, it’s time to take full advantage of all the star power in the game.
Let’s be honest, MLB needs to take a page out of the NBA’s business model. Sure, stars have more impact in a sport where there are only five guys on the court at one time. But baseball features one-on-one battles thousands of times throughout the season, which means thousands of opportunities to hype those mano y mano matchups.
Mike Trout should be the LeBron James of MLB, just without “The Decision” or an ill-advised Space Jam reboot. Trout is the undisputed best player in the league, and, just like James, happens to play in the second-largest media market in the country. Or he’s at least LA-adjacent.
While Trout may never be the promoter James has become, the league should be marketing him left and right any chance they get. And don’t tell me you can’t market Trout. His lack of desire to promote himself should lead the league to that much more active in doing it for him.
Heck, I saw him at more Eagles games in the offseason as the NFL and local TV stations did a better job of marketing him than his own team and sport do over 162 of his games as an Angel. Dude is the best player in the world, yet how many people could pick him out of a lineup?
The fact that he is now going to be an Angel for the next dozen seasons is even more incentive for the league to build a ginormous media campaign around him. He’s an amateur meteorologist and avowed weather nerd so get him a recurring guest spot on The Weather Channel to get him a national audience. Put him in a cartoon commercial and have him battle Skeletor to decide the fate of Eternia.
There are countless ways MLB can make its biggest and brightest young stars relevant to the young audience that is salivating for virtual consumption Try them all. If Trout isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other young players to promote, a couple of whom just happen to be Chicago Cubs. Guys like Javy Báez and Kris Bryant stand out as highly marketable. Francisco Lindor, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, Ronald Acuña, and Aaron Judge are all charismatic and colorful (not to mention easy on the eyes, which doesn’t hurt).
This Harper video is a good start. Speaking of which, even a guy like that who has rubbed more than a few fans the wrong way is going to draw eyeballs. Why do you think WWE is so successful? It’s because they’ve mastered the art of babyfaces and heels, setting personalities up so that fans either love them or love to hate them.
What about a guy I didn’t include in the list above? Maybe the 2018 American League MVP would like to be featured in some league advertising. Red Sox pitcher David Price was incensed by the lack of publicity surrounding teammate Mookie Betts, perhaps the only player in the game who can hold a candle to Trout right now.
“OK, that’s a joke,” Price said about Betts’ lack of commercials. “I saw the Brewers first baseman (Jesús Aguilar) has a commercial on MLB Network. Great player. Great player. I love watching him play. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him from Travis Shaw and all those guys. But he’s not Mookie Betts.
“We’re trying to grow this game in the African-American community. Put that guy on commercials. That’s how this game grows. MLB is probably the worst at marketing their players. They need to do a better job of that. We’ve talked about that to the union and Mr. Manfred many times.”
How did those conversations go, Mr. Manfred? Listen, I know Price has a tendency to get a little salty, but he’s got a pretty legitimate point here. Betts could be the next Bo Jackson, crossing over between baseball and bowling, but instead you’re leaving him Munsoned out in the middle of nowhere from a promotional standpoint.
Every single one of the guys listed above, especially a guy with as cool a name as Mookie, should be in a national media campaign and have commercials coming out monthly. MLB should embrace these players as ambassadors for the game by tweeting about them, sharing their highlights, and featuring them on YouTube channels or another forms of social media the world invests in and is engulfed by social media.
Fortunately, it’s an easy fix to reach out to more and varied fans if the league prioritizes marketing its stars over tinkering with the rules of the game.