Most of the sports world watched in reverence on Saturday as New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter delivered his 3000th career hit in storybook fashion with a third-inning homerun. After he completed his day with a 5 for 5 performance at the plate, including the game-winning hit, we knew that major league baseball and Yankee officials had to be pinching themselves…amazed by their good fortune. It’s quite clear that Derek Jeter will be a fan favorite for many years to come.
True, he no longer covers much ground at shortstop, but Jeter nonetheless dominates the standings in Nielsen’s ranking of baseball’s most marketable players. This will gladden the hearts of marketers — like a coalition of Ford dealers — who use Jeter in their commercials. Jeter’s success is a boon to baseball in general, which has struggled to keep up with the NFL and NBA in terms of creating bankable off-the-field celebrity endorsers.
After Jeter, there is a big drop off in terms of Major League baseball star power. Another Yankee, Mariano Rivera, is a very distant runner-up in Nielsen’s ranking (apparently it helps to play on a winning team in the nation’s biggest media market), followed by Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals and Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Next in the marketable-player standings is Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners. No matter how he fares on the field this year (and he has yet to fare badly), Suzuki will have a hold on fan affection following his generous donation to the Japanese Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Completing Nielsen’s top 10 are Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves, Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies.
In another measure of the marketability of certain players, Major League Baseball and the Players Association recently released stats on sales of official player jerseys in 2010. Jeter again topped the standings, followed by Mauer and Halladay. Despite pitching in only a dozen big-league games before succumbing to shoulder problems and undergoing surgery, Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg came in at No. 13 on the list — perhaps a harbinger of his future power as a sports-celeb endorser for brands.
The presence of Rodriguez in Nielsen’s top 10 indicates that steroid use is not a death sentence for a player’s marketing power — at least, not if viewed as a short-term lapse in an otherwise spectacular career. Nielsen also rated the marketability of baseball people who aren’t currently active as players. Yogi Berra fared best, while Willie Mays, Cal Ripken Jr. and Joe Torre also scored well. Of course, no one has accused any of them of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Then again, marketers might wonder whether baseball stars need a little enhancement to make an impression on consumers these days. Baseball doesn’t have the No. 1 status it once did among Americans’ favorite team sports. In a Harris Poll released at the beginning of this year, adults who follow at least one sport were asked to say which is their favorite. Though baseball came in second, it garnered barely half the votes that went to pro football (17 percent vs. 31 percent).
Meanwhile baseball has lost 6 percentage points in the favorite-sport tally since 1985. Even more troubling, in a breakdown by age and ethnicity, Harris found baseball getting its strongest favorite sport vote amongst people aged 65-plus and its weakest showing amongst 18-33 year-olds. In light of these trends, for major league baseball officials, it’s easy to see why Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit could not have come sooner.Share