It came pretty quietly a few weeks ago, Thomas Tull, Chairman of legendary Pictures, was selected to the Board of Directors for The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. While many may look at the move and go on to the next tidbit of information, it really is an interesting progressive signal of things to come by the Hall under the leadership of Jeff Idelson.
The Board of the Hall has largely been made up of conservative keepers of the game…former players, owners and executives…whose large focus has been on the traditions and flow of baseball and its history as it has always been. In recent years however, Idelson and his team have been much more progressive and outgoing in growing the Hall’s impact and scope, building year-round events, finding ways to improve technology and looking for opportunities to both draw people to Cooperstown and to educate fans globally on the importance of the storied institution. One of those ways is through the entertainment industry and aggressively and effectively finding outlets that can tell and integrate the story of baseball into projects that expand the historic scope of the sport to the widest possible audience.
Into that mix comes Tull, a Pittsburgh lifer who helped bring the story of Jackie Robinson to the big screen in “42” last summer, through his work as the head of Legendary Pictures. The Robinson story has been a goal of some of the biggest names in Hollywood for years, but Legendary found the right way to tell the larger story of Jackie’s life and do it with the approval and assistance of all levels of baseball, including the Hall itself, which became a great marketing partner for the film (keeping in mind the Hall is partners with MLB but is a separate and valuable business on its own). The result was a well told story that enhanced many of the facts but kept the message impactful and clear to a very large audience of both die hard and casual sports fans, as well as those people interested in race issues and American history. The film was successful in achieving all those goals, and was moderately successful at the box office as well.
So how does one film, and Tull’s appointment now enhance baseball and the Hall? In several ways. First, Tull becomes a great conduit to the entertainment industry to discuss where integration of any host of baseball memorabilia can be used in films large and small. He has done similar integration ideas for example with the Pittsburgh Steelers (of which he is a part owner) in having Heinz Field be the setting for part of “The Dark Knight,” and having Steelers colors, brand and even players surface in other Legendary projects. The same could happen for baseball, giving the sport and its history a unique place in Hollywood going forward through a proactive and progressive relationship.
Tull can also now offer a perspective of an outsider to the Hall and its board on how all their assets, and their business, can be more of an entertainment property vs. just being a staid museum. His position at Legendary puts him in a seat of power to understand how technology and digital and social media can best be implemented to market a property, and The Hall, as a marketing property, can use the boost to grow its scope of interest to people who may never have the wherewithal to make it to the middle of new York State for a trip to the building. He can also be a unique sounding board for future projects, and can maybe help be an engine to push along storytelling both big and small of baseball that could have broader appeal but have never had the right voice. Legendary also has the eye, through their films, of knowing how to reach a young, active and growing male audience…the exact audience that baseball seems to lose in the transition from kids who play the game to older adults who come back to the sport with their kids. Perhaps Tull’s influence can lead to ways that the Hall, and even the sport, can engage creatively with those who slip away from baseball for a decade or so, and keep them engaged throughout.
Does this mean that suddenly there will be references to Ty Cobb in “Godzilla” or pictures of warriors rounding the bases in the sequel of “300”? No. What it means it that Legendary and the Hall can find ways to integrate new thinking, promotion and non-traditional leadership into a venerable institution that, like other mature brands, needs an influx of different thought over time. It certainly won’t be easy and all ideas won’t be accepted by a Board that is uber-conservative but understands the need for progressive change and growth.
If it works, Tull’s addition could indeed be legendary for baseball, and could signal change for the other “Halls” in need of a makeover for growth.