Originally, I wanted to write a column expressing my dissatisfaction with how Major League Baseball markets its stars, but it’s a common feeling that’s already been written about by many sports columnists. Instead, I want to focus on the organizations that are doing their player marketing right.
This mismarketing phenomenon has been most evident with Mike Trout, the five-tool outfielder from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Simply put, the guy is an absolute beast, and he’s just the right player to become the face of the MLB. Aside from his skills on the diamond, Trout is a stand-up guy. The 27-year-old from Millville, N.J. interacts with fans and plays the game with class — yet the MLB has failed to adequately market him.
I enjoy watching and analyzing baseball in any form and at every level — professional, semi-pro, college, you name it. But my favorite level of baseball is Little League. Even though I look forward to watching the Little League World Series every summer, I have never thought about why I enjoy watching preteens play ball until now.
I think a lot of it is the novelty of seeing 12- and 13-year-old kids play at such a competitive level on an international stage. Little League could easily focus solely on the game itself, only showcasing the talents of these young players (ahem, MLB). Rather, the LL organization has done a fantastic job focusing on the personalities of the kids. For those who haven’t watched a Little League World Series game, each game is preceded by a “get to know the players” segment. This allows the individual players and teams as a whole to showcase who they are; it humanizes the youth-athletes in a way that MLB hasn’t done with its players.
The face of the LLWS this year has been Alfred Delia, better-known as “Big Al.” The 12-year-old from Middletown, N.J. let fans know what he is all about in his TV introduction.
“Hi, my name is Alfred Delia,” he said. At home they call me ‘Big Al,’ and I hit dingers.”
Fans and the media ate this up. Within weeks of his now-famous TV appearance, Big Al had gone viral on Twitter, caught the attention of pro athletes, been featured in numerous articles and even appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Baseball fans are clamoring for his autograph and pro players, including New York Mets third baseman Jose Bautista, are asking for photos with him.
Amazingly, Big Al is signing autographs for fans who would be indifferent about receiving a signed baseball from the majority of MLB players. That is just baffling at first glance, but it actually makes a lot of sense because he isn’t just another baseball player — he is “Big Al.”
Last year, I was standing with one of my friends in the crêpe line at the McCarthy Dining Hall and behind us was USC kicker Chase McGrath. In utter disbelief that he was standing next to the USC kicker, my friend turned and whispered to alert me of McGrath’s presence.
As humans, we are constantly searching for social connection; we look to relate with others. Professional and even collegiate athletes seem to be so far removed from society we can’t fathom that these players exist in the same world as us — much less eat at our dining halls. Our tendency to regard athletes as supernatural beings is really a strange phenomenon. We, the media, are a bit desensitized to this as we talk to athletes on a regular basis. The average fan is shocked by just casually running into an athlete, let alone having a conversation with one.
This summer, USC Athletics has done a superb job humanizing USC football players. Several short videos have been released featuring the interests and future aspirations of the team members. I only hope that USC Athletics has the resources and time to expand this project to other sports and showcase more of the diverse, interesting athletes and coaches we have.
My favorite stories at Daily Trojan have been profiles on athletes and coaches. I cherish the ability to show an audience that these gladiators are more than what we normally recognize them for on the field. Each athlete and coach has a personal story and it’s a shame that these stories go largely untold by the organizations that represent them.
Perhaps this disconnect dilemma is the media’s fault for not properly covering the players. However, professional and collegiate organizations have just as much as a responsibility to market their athletes as humans and not just athletes.
With social media at the forefront of immediate communication and the ability to showcase athletes as more than a player in a game, organizations have no reason to not market their players in this way. Organizations like MLB should learn from the examples set by Little League Baseball and USC Athletics. It makes the viewing experience much more engaging and fun for fans.