Sharp-eyed New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans have noticed something about their teams that they’ve never seen before. No, it isn’t that the two wealthiest MLB teams in the American League East are battling it out for last place, although that is indeed happening.
Rather, it’s that both teams have added insurance company logos to their uniforms, the first time either team has allowed commercial advertising on their jerseys (not counting the Nike logo that adorns all Major League Baseball shirts).
The acceptance of the logo patches was part of last year’s collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the player’s union that for the first time let teams sell uniform advertising space. So far, 14 of the 30 MLB teams have added company logos to their uniforms, showcasing everything from insurance and hospitals, to home alarm systems, and local cement companies.
The advent of the patches has sparked debates about the traditional purity of the game. Baseball, frequently romanticized for its history and traditions, faces the risk of appearing more commercialized with these patches.
Some purists argue that these advertisements could distract from the game itself, potentially altering the viewing experience for fans who appreciate baseball for its authenticity and nostalgia. Although, perhaps some haven’t seen stadium photos from last century in which nearly every available space was taken up with billboard advertising.
Starr Insurance deal
What can’t be argued is the lucrative nature of these advertising deals. The Yankees’ agreement with little-known Starr Insurance is believed to be the richest in baseball, with the company reportedly paying $25 million a year through the 2031 season for the luxury of having its brand prominently displayed on the pinstripe uniform. The deal also includes stadium signage, TV and radio advertising and other visible elements.
“Having had Starr as an insurance carrier of ours for the last decade and having worked closely with their leadership team as part of our pre-established partnership, it is clear that Starr is the right company to embark with on this landmark relationship,” said Hal Steinbrenner, managing general partner of the New York Yankees. “There were many aspects of Starr that aligned with our organization, including their century-plus history, significant New York presence, worldwide reach and unparalleled commitment to the community.”
With a few exceptions, the MLB teams embracing the sleeve patches have turned to local companies, rather than global conglomerates for the new uniform logos. Although MLB says local favoritism isn’t a requirement The Atlanta Braves inked a deal with locally based Quickrete, a cement and concrete maker.
The Los Angels Angels joined with Foundation Building Materials, which opened its doors 12 years ago about a mile from Angel Stadium. Houston-based Oxy Energy won the bid to brand with, you guessed it, the Houston Astros.
“Yes, the reigning world champions, not exactly popular to start with, will be walking billboards for a fossil fuel company as the climate crisis rages,” wrote Guardian columnist Hunter Felt. “Maybe the mere presence of the patches themselves will end up being more offensive to baseball fans than whatever corporate entity they happen to represent. In any given situation, it’s a net-negative when advertisements start popping up where they didn’t exist before.”
Like it or not, the floodgates are open. The Boston Red Sox partnered with insurer Mass Mutual in a 10-year deal believed to be worth about $17 million a year. Mass Mutual filled a void created when John Hancock Insurance withdrew its sponsorship, striking its giant centerfield sign in Fenway Park and other areas of the field. Now, a giant illuminated Mass Mutual sign dominates the outfield between the huge video screens, which also occasionally showcase its brand.
“Insurance is a pretty interesting category and we’ve always had multiple partners in this space; Hancock for a very long time, we had AAA, and Plymouth Rock as well,” said Troup Parkinson, Red Sox executive vice president. “MassMutual, for us is a really fabulous local, historic company that’s been around longer than us.”
For the companies investing millions of dollars into these advertising partnerships, the potential benefits are multifaceted. The exposure gained from having their brand prominently displayed on MLB uniforms can enhance brand recognition and visibility.
The association with popular MLB teams allows companies to tap into a vast audience, potentially leading to increased customer engagement and loyalty, advertising analysts say. Insurers have long successfully partnered with NFL stars.
Moreover, this form of advertising can foster a sense of community involvement, as companies align themselves with beloved teams and their charitable endeavors, thus potentially boosting their public image and perception.
“The Red Sox and MassMutual each share a long and storied history in Massachusetts. For more than a century, we’ve been invited into many of the same homes, served many of the same families, and helped expand opportunities for many in the same cities and towns across New England and the nation,” said MassMutual Chairman, President, and CEO Roger Crandall. “Now, we are thrilled to come together and partner with an organization that will not only help us dramatically expand our efforts to reach more people, but also shares the same enduring sense of interdependence, teamwork, and community.”
The company said it is too early to point to specific successes of the branding campaign, it already sees proof of the partnership’s merit. The company said it measures success based on the size of the audience and level of engagement as well as furthering its vision of providing financial well-being to customers.
“The built-in Red Sox fan base provides a large, highly engaged, diverse set of consumers that we gained access to – while also creating a unique opportunity to reach a broader audience,” said Julie Staadecker, media relations lead at MassMutual. “We believe it is also helping deepen our existing customer relationships.”
But assessing the precise return on investment of these deals can be complex. The effectiveness of the sleeve patches in driving sales or achieving specific business goals might not be immediately quantifiable. Tracking direct correlation between patch exposure and increased revenue can be challenging, as factors such as brand sentiment and customer behavior are influenced by many variables.
“Measuring the success is an imperfect concept,” said Parkinson. “So much of what we do is in the eye of the beholder. You have to believe in the brand and the market. And I think that’s why you see local partners, because they know the power of the brand, even though they may not know exactly how to measure how that translates to sales, business, or things like that.
‘The most sacred thing’
There is less resistance to commercial advertising from the fan base than there was perhaps 10 years ago, Parkinson said, as the economics of the sport has become more visible and understandable. Revenue generated from these advertising partnerships can contribute greatly to team operations, player salaries, and overall growth of the sport.
Still, striking a balance between the commercial interests of the teams and the intrinsic values of the game is a delicate challenge that MLB must navigate.
‘Ultimately, the most sacred thing we have is our brand,” said Parkinson. “ And these patches are just another way to tap in into that. But you do have to be selective, and you have to make sure you’re going down that road with a very willing partner and that you’re as proud as they are to be associated with each other.
Parkinson noted that currently only the NFL among professional sports teams does not feature uniform advertising – although it does on their practice jerseys. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe it will get the point of stock car racing where every inch of available space is taken up with a corporate logo.
“That will all be determined by Major League Baseball but what you see right now is the current guidelines,” he said.
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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