Marketing a Superstar or Marketing a Sport

On the Monday before the All Star Game Bill Shaikin started a lot of trouble by publishing a piece in the LA Times about the struggles in getting Mike Trout the kind of attention he deserves. Aside from playing most of his games on the West Coast and a lack of playoff appearances Shaikin also stated that Trout turns down high profile opportunities to promote himself and the sport.  Torii Hunter is quoted in the piece as saying:

“If Mike really wanted to, if he got a marketing team and everything, he would be the face of baseball,” . . . “He doesn’t. He wants to be with his wife and keep it simple.

“It’s his choice. It’s not anybody else’s choice.”

At the end of the article Shaikin asks:

Should the league do a better job of promoting him?

“I don’t know,” Trout said. “I’m not telling anybody to do that.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred went on The Dan Patrick Show  (go to the 33 minute mark) the next day and when asked about promoting players cited Shaikin’s piece and agreed with it.  Manfred felt it was the responsibility of the league to promote its players but they could only promote them as much as they were willing to be promoted.

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Later in the day Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register asked Manfred more about promoting Trout.

“Player marketing requires one thing, for sure: the player,” . . .  You can not market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom are trying to market in order to have effective marketing.”

Manfred’s comments ignited some passionate responses favoring Trout.  Eventually the Angels posted the following statement on social media.

“On behalf of the Angels Organization and baseball fans everywhere, congratulations to Mike Trout on another outstanding All-Star Game performance.

Mike Trout is an exceptional ambassador for the game. Combined with his talent, his solid character creates a perfect role model for young people everywhere. Each year, Mike devotes a tremendous amount of his time and effort contributing to our Organization, and marketing Major League Baseball. He continually chooses to participate in the community, visiting hospitals, schools, and countless other charities.

One of Mike’s traits that people admire most is his humility. His brand is built upon generously spending his time engaging with fans, both at home and on the road, while remaining a remarkable baseball player and teammate.

In addition, Mike spends quality time as a husband, son brother, uncle, and friend.  We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion. That is rare in today’s society and stands out as much as his extraordinary talent.”


The statement strongly defended Trout against the commissioner’s insinuation that he was not working hard enough to promote himself.

There seems to be two issues at play here that overlap in some areas but not in others.  As Manfred said in his interview with Dan Patrick, it is the league’s job to promote its players.  For decades there has been a feeling that the MLB does not promote its stars as effectively as the NBA and the NFL.  The league CAN do more to promote Mike Trout without Trout’s participation.  He plays baseball six nights a week and the league has access to all of the video produced in those games.  MLB SHOULD be telling the world that the greatest baseball player of all time is playing and now is the time to see him.  Nothing more than his own video highlights are needed to promote the sport and the player.  Trout need not participate on his off days to make that happen.

The second issue is that of making Mike Trout more famous.  If 60 Minutes, HBO, Jimmy Fallon, Hollywood or Saturday Night Live are available options for Trout, there is nothing MLB can do to open those doors if Trout is not willing to walk through them.  For Trout to be better known his face needs to appear in places other than ESPN and FOX Sports.  In this way, MLB is hoping that the player can help promote the sport.

Part of Trout’s charm is that he doesn’t want to be bigger than the game.  He is humble and down-to-earth.  He wants to be excellent at baseball because he’s competitive.  But he isn’t competitive because he wants to show anyone up or promote himself.  He just likes the sport. To seek self-promotion would be unnatural for him. He already has all the money and recognition he could ever want and that’s what makes him so likable.

Another issue here is the erosion of the relationship between MLB and the players.  Buster Olney of ESPN suggested that Manfred is expressing a frustration with the players at large and was unfairly focusing those frustrations at Mike Trout.  The Home Run Derby had one of its weakest pool of players in years.  Mike Trout is not the only player who chose to sit out this year, but he is the best player to choose to sit out. A host of other issues are confronting the sport and the player’s union is choosing to avoid the discussion rather than to be as proactive as the Commissioner wishes to be.

Trout has taken big steps in his comfort with the media in the last year. His on-the-field interview during the All Star Game is a perfect example.  I doubt we’ll ever see him dressed in drag imitating Lady Gaga on SNL.  But it would be nice to see him take on some non-sports interview settings.  Baseball has given Trout a lot and the sport would benefit if he stretched himself into those opportunities.  No one would think he was a braggart for doing so. This is NOT a question of Trout taking on more endorsement deals.  On the other hand, MLB has their greatest asset approaching his prime.  There is more the league can do to emphasize his greatness and they need not wait for him to do so.


Edit: Mike Trout Responds to Manfred

Via the Angels social media Mike Trout offered this response to the controversy. . . Which is basically the most Mike Trout response ever.  By saying he’s “not a petty guy”, Trout acknowledges that there was offense in Manfred’s statement but then immediately took the high road and asked everyone to move on.

Mike Trout's resonse to Rob Manfred

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