Baseball doesn’t realize how good they have it. Their players are so marketable and it doesn’t seem like they care. Major League Baseball continues to flub the easy play.
Coming from the hockey industry, marketable players are rare. Players with personality even more so. Sure, hockey showcases some player’s personality and their creativity, but, by-and-large it’s nothing like what’s available to baseball.
It is not that hockey players are not marketable, rather it is far more difficult for NHL players to be identifiable, to show their individuality. The equipment obscures our vision, plus the speed of the game makes television close ups difficult. And goaltenders…that damn mask… if players are difficult than goaltenders are near impossible to identify. If we as consumers cannot recognize players than their marketing value is extremely limited.
Baseball is different. The pace of play is slower. Television allows for close ups throughout the game. We can identify Justin Smoak, Donaldson, Martin and Pillar. Sure, many of us can easily identify Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid but further down any player list, we’d be left guessing if not for a name bar.
Most of us could easily identify the Jays starting lineup, same goes for the Yankees and Red Sox. Heck we could all probably do pretty decent at identifying a large portion of the top players in the league. Have a hard time believing we could say the same about hockey.
From personal experience, hockey equipment has resulted in some memorable ‘DOH’ moments. Without going too much into the story – two NHL vets were mixed up, to their face, based solely on their helmet visor combination. As an insider, this should never happen but it does because players are not easily identifiable at quick glance.
Baseball will most likely not experience this. The game is slower, allowing for an extra second of thought before putting a foot in our mouth.
Make baseball fun again, they said, it would be fun, they said..... pic.twitter.com/tfdzTjXfWm— ?Mike Clevinger ? (@Mike_Anthony13) May 11, 2018
They’re not the typical flashy colors your used to seeing from @Mike_Anthony13 but just know they’re not the typical navy blue cleat either. #hrusovskyscustomkicks #customcleats #wpw #bohemianelephant #redjewel #elephant #jewels #clevelandindians @UABaseball @AngelusDirect pic.twitter.com/nfsPMrymFP— Jonathan Hrusovsky (@JHrusovsky) May 6, 2018
Baseball also has greater opportunity for players to express themselves through their choice of equipment, rituals or whatever the heck they want – until recently. Zobrist wants to wear all black cleats, go for it! Clevinger wants some personal flowers on his cleats, love it! Willson Contreras wears the Venezuelan flag as an arm sleeve, more power to ya!
There are limited avenues for expression in baseball; players are becoming creative. Cleats and gloves are common avenues to express a player’s personality – Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s red and blue mitt is a beauty. Undershirts and sleeves are beginning to see random colours pop up. This after we were blessed with the artistic eye black of Brett Lawrie – kinda miss that batman thing, like in the I hated it but miss it now that it’s gone sorta way.
Hockey has even less avenues for expression. Tinted visors work, but mostly they make you the brunt of a joke. If you really want to find personality in hockey just look at the ‘tendy. Going to put it out there: 1) who remembers Felix Potvin’s mask? 2) who had a poster of it? And 3) could you honestly pick Potvin out of a lineup if given the chance?
We’re talking decades later and Potvin still holds relevance, he is still marketable. Yet I have no clue what the man looks like. It doesn’t matter because we identify with that mask, his personality shone through. I’m not a Leafs fan, but I am a Potvin fan. It is solely because Potvin was provided an outlet for expression and, as an impressionable youth, I connected with this.
Hockey gets it – sorta. They allow for this type of expression because they understand the marketing hurdles the sport must overcome. Connecting with youth is essential to the sport’s long-term viability. Baseball doesn’t seem to get this – MLB is staring right at the mouth of the gift horse, wondering how to further engage today’s youth when the answer seems to be what they are currently cracking down on.
Maybe Manfred should give Bettman a call and ask what the NHL is doing. The NHL is allowing for freedom of expression, however they do so by dictating the avenues players can go. At the end of the day though the NHL allows it, MLB is attempting to restrict it completely.
Hockey is allowing for expression through player’s sticks and skates. Baseball’s equivalent would be bat and cleats. Sticks and bats are great but why not cleats? Especially if Kris Letang can order gold skates from Graf – not a shade of gold, no like shimmering gold skates. Letang only wore them in practice, so we can assume they were only to have fun with his teammates but the skates were completely legit and ready for NHL ice. Letang used the skates to express himself, to have fun, and it would have connected with the youth if he wore them in a game. There is no difference between Letang’s skates and the cleats in question today, other than the freedom of choice being given to the player rather than reserved by the league.
The NHL is not perfect. They are eons behind MLB in many aspects of engagement. Thing is, in this instance, the NHL may be closer to perfect than the MLB ever will be. The NHL seems to be overcoming marketing hurdles while the MLB is, for whatever reason, creating their own. Manfred and Co. need to wake up, otherwise they will further lose out on engaging with the youth market in ways the NHL is able to, albeit possibly unknowingly.