It’s not new to suggest that Major League Baseball has a marketing problem, but that old woe got a fresh spin at this week’s All-Star festivities when – and this is as ridiculous as it sounds – commissioner Rob Manfred pinned the problem on the best player in his sport, Mike Trout.
“Player marketing requires one thing for sure – the player,” Manfred said. “You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher-profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged.”
The way that Trout was on Tuesday night, when he wore a microphone and did an interview with Joe Buck and John Smoltz, in the middle of playing in the All-Star Game. We did not get any really fresh insight into Trout – he’s a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles and is so into meteorology that he’s called into The Weather Channel during blizzard coverage and recorded a video to congratulate Jim Cantore on 30 years at the network.
And it’s not like Trout is averse to advertising in general. You may have seen him in your supermarket’s freezer section, where his face adorns boxes of SuperPretzel soft pretzels. SuperPretzel is not an official MLB corporate partner, though, so he appears there as “Mike Trout, Baseball Superstar.” It’s one of the best endorsements you’ll ever see because there’s no earthly reason for the greatest baseball player in history to lend his name and face to frozen pretzels unless he really loves them. It seems that he also has better infrastructure ideas than Donald Trump, related to pretzels, of course.
Trout also does endorse the sport of baseball. He’s just not the type of guy to go out and do a whole lot, and since the world remains conditioned to the Michael Jordan model of great athletes pursuing a certain level of celebrity, Trout’s demeanor does not compute for Park Avenue suits like Manfred.
Wednesday night, eager to move on from this unwanted spotlight, Trout issued a statement through the Angels: “I have received lots of questions about Commissioner Manfred’s recent statement. I am not a petty guy and would really encourage everyone to just move forward. Everything is cool between the commissioner and myself. End of story. I am ready to just play some baseball!”
That, on its own, could be the centerpiece of an effective marketing campaign involving about one minute of Trout’s time, assuming they did multiple takes to make sure they got it. But maybe MLB wants a bit more, to really make a statement that the sport is serious about being as big as it can be in this era.
There’s one way to do it that, if Trout would agree to it, and it would, again, require little work on his part.
The Super Bowl commercial starts with Trout’s back to the camera, wearing a customized Eagles jersey with his name on it. He’s watching TV, eating a pretzel, and as football plays on the TV, we hear an announcer saying, “and the Philadelphia Eagles’ title defense is over, they’ve been eliminated!” Trout clicks his remote, and it’s The Weather Channel, with maybe Cantore saying “no interesting storms in the forecast anywhere near South Jersey!” Trout gets up, looks out the window, then looks at the camera, and says, “I am ready to just play some baseball!” Then we see a bunch of highlights of Trout doing Trout things – a homer, a great catch, smiling with a kid in an Angels cap. MLB logo on the screen, and we’re out.
Would the NFL allow a Super Bowl ad from Major League Baseball, a competitor in the sports industry? Maybe not, but that hardly matters. MLB making the ad and having it rejected still would get buzz, and would make baseball look like it’s really trying, which is important in changing the narrative. The video also would eventually – whoopsie doozles – get leaked online, and reach the younger demographic that MLB wants to reach anyway.
And if it did run as a Super Bowl ad? Congratulations, Mike Trout has reached the largest possible audience on American television, maybe without even having to leave his living room. And he gets a free Eagles jersey out of the deal. It’s easy and good for everyone involved, which is exactly why it will never happen.