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April 29, 2013

Bizball

Baseball's Marketing Problem Isn't Easy to Fix

by Maury Brown


Whether it was the release of the movie“42,” the anniversary of Hank Aaron surpassing Babe Ruth as the all-time home run leader, or one of many articles each year telling baseball it has an “issue,” Major League Baseball decided recently it was time to create a task force to deal with the decline of African-Americans at the highest levels of the game. Baseball, like other professional sports leagues, likes to create this type of task force. It shows that the league cares, and well meaning be damned, is often stocked with people that likely aren’t difference-makers. Recommendations will be made, but they will be around things that don’t get at the heart of the matter, because those things are difficult—if not impossible—to fix.

The “problem” isn’t really a problem in the way that MLB’s task force is likely to look at it. It’s about the change in society, the growth of other sports, the power of television, the internet, how fast players can transition, the growth of other minority groups now playing the game, and, yes, marketing.

Here’s the list of the members of Commissioner Selig’s task force:

  • Stuart Sternberg – Principal Owner, Tampa Bay Rays; MLB Diversity Oversight Committee Chairman
  • Dave Dombrowski – President, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Detroit Tigers; On-Field Diversity Task Force Chairman
  • Tom Brasuell – MLB Vice President of Community Affairs (representing Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities)
  • Roger Cador – Baseball Head Coach, Southern University (a historically black college and university)
  • Tony Clark – Director of Player Services, Major League Baseball Players Association
  • Larry Dolan – Cleveland Indians; MLB Diversity Oversight Committee Advisor
  • Dennis Gilbert – Special Assistant to Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf
  • Derrick Hall – President & Chief Executive Officer, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Wendy Lewis – MLB Senior Vice President of Diversity and Strategic Alliances
  • Jerry Manuel – MLB Network Analyst; Major League Manager (1998-2003; 2008-2010); 2000 A.L. Manager of the Year
  • Frank Marcos – Senior Director, MLB Scouting Bureau
  • Jonathan Mariner – MLB Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Darrell Miller – MLB Vice President of Youth and Facility Development (representing MLB Urban Youth Academy)
  • Bernard Muir – Athletic Director, Stanford University
  • Kim Ng – MLB Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations
  • Pat O’Conner – President and Chief Executive Officer, Minor League Baseball
  • Frank Robinson – Hall of Famer; MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Development
  • Ken Williams – Executive Vice President, Chicago White Sox

First off, there are some very good people on this panel. I especially like that Pat O’Conner is on the list, as it shows MLB is looking not only in the mirror, but at minor league baseball as well, and seeing if there’s anything that can be done there. You have women, minorities, those involved with youth—it’s a fair cross-section (although, this author wishes there were a host of television and marketing mavens within).

The task force will be looking at the following numbers, and will try and make something of them.

According to the Player Diversity Report (released on November 13, 2012), the diversity of the player Profile on 40-man major league rosters was 62 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic, eight percent African-American, one percent Asian, and 0.2 percent Native American. And, according to MLB records, which are a collection of data compiled by the clubs, the percentage of players on 2013 Opening Day, 25-man major-league rosters who identified themselves as African-American or black was approximately 8.5 percent, which is in a consistent range with the past few years. The first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft featured the selection of seven African-American players, the most by total and percentage (seven of 31, 22.6 percent) since 1992.

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