Last year at this time he was the best story in baseball many know about, but few really knew of. Quiet and contained, with nervousness about communicating with the media in English and guardedness for past minor off the field issues, Miguel Cabrera was a crossover brand basking in the shadows. However as the year played out and the Tigers successes grew with Cabrera’s historic run to the Triple Crown, the Venezuelan became more comfortable with his place in the limelight and what he could do off the field. Fast forward to today, and Cabrera and the front running Tigers have become the story that both Latin and Anglo baseball fans can’t get enough of as the All-Star game approaches.
The change in Cabrera is a good look at how executives at the team and management level can work together to create economies of scale and time to expand a players reach. The baseball season is long with little time off, the least of any professional sport. So managing a player’s time even on game days is so critical. With a two language star like Cabrera comes the added factor of mixing his comfort in Spanish with his slight discomfort in English, to make sure that all the messages literally translate well. For the Tigers this year the mix has come together.
From the cover of Sports Illustrated to an ESPN Magazine piece, from Univision to promos for Fox Sports One, to all access pieces with local newspapers and photo shoots with kids for his foundation, the Venezuelan is more visible now than ever before, and his play has not suffered in the least. His time is managed, the efforts for off the field work are maximized and everyone wins. Just as important to what Cabrera is saying are what those around him in the locker room are saying, as the third party endorsements from stars like Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter have added even more to the credibility and marketability of Motown’s biggest name these days.
With all the time spent doing media will come brands who now get to know Cabrera better than ever before. Companies looking to access the Hispanic marketplace may have been taken aback or hesitant because of his lack of exposure in the mainstream press, but now they can read, see and understand more about him as a person than they ever could before, that exposure helps the club, it helps the brands and it will help Cabrera maximize his amazing run in ways he has never had to before. Of course the marketability of the All-Star and MVP candidate does not come without his on field performance continuing to be stellar, or his off field persona continuing to be steady and clean. Both have to play together. It is rare to have that sizzle and the steak play together for an athlete, especially in season and across two cultures that love sport. If it continues on, Miguel Cabrera’s emergence as a brand could very well become one of the year’s best marketing stories, and behind the scenes, one of the better examples of how a hesitant star listened and trusted those in authority to help expand his reach off the field.