On April 28 the New York Yankees will have a bobblehead night for one of their stars. He crosses cultural demos and brings people out to the ballpark in The Bronx who may not come out otherwise. Later this summer they will honor one of their legendary players from the recent past, one who admitted using PED’s but then came back to resume his career without incident.
Neither is Alex Rodriguez. They are Masahiro Tanaka and Andy Pettite.
What about Rodriquez, who is about to pass Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and will pass a host of milestones as he returned from his year-long suspension and very public dispute with his team and Major League Baseball? Nothing yet. Other teams like the Milwaukee Brewers have found ways to heal and then promote fallen stars like Ryan Braun, but the Yankees and ARod, arguably their best player this early on in the MLB season…nothing. Stone silence. The team’s social media push throughout the spring hardly mentioned anything Rodriguez did on or off the field, his bio is smaller than what one would expect, there are few if any public celebrations during games of Rodriguez. He is there in body, but not promotion as he plays through his contract and goes about his job for The Bronx Bombers.
What should and could be a marketing bonanza for the team and its partners is stone silence. The millions made on the backs of Derek Jeter’s farewell season are a memory. The events created are in the past. For ARod, the accomplishments are speaking for themselves with few to amplify the message.
Now this is not all cut and dried or very simple. Jeter was the model athlete for a generation and there is no comparison in terms of public image between the two superstars. Then there are millions of dollars in incentives the Yankees will have to pay Rodriguez as he reaches his milestones, and reports have said the club will fight those payments because of ARod’s suspension and all the issues publicly and privately that came along with it. Glorifying anything Rodriguez does publicly, some say, will hurt their chances of regaining the millions currently owed to him as incentives. This fight will go on for a long time probably, longer than the remaining part of Rodriguez’s career.
However the other side comes with MLB, who continue to acknowledge Rodriguez’s statistical marks, suspension or not. While MLB has not gone on a public crusade to glorify the coming milestone breakers, they have not walked away from noting the numbers or his daily onfield accomplishments.
Fans too seem to be warming to the returning Rodriguez, who by all media accounts has been the model teammate thus far, and has stepped very carefully around any public spats with the organization. He is playing, and playing well, and trying to keep the healing going publicly. As he plays well the public seems willing to forgive and move on. For the Yankees, long steeped in tradition and tied up in legal issues, not quite yet. Ad for brands around the team who could tie easily into a campaign for the fallen Yankees star now on the comeback, there is also lots of silence. No one seems willing to yet cross the line and risk public brand scrutiny for tying to Rodriguez; not yet anyway.
Now it is still early, and the Yankees, as a savvy a business as there is, are watching and weighing options every day. The legal issues make public comment on the subject probably impossible to comment on. However from a promotional standpoint, the crosstown Mets and their young stars are slowly ceding casual fans interested in a day at the ballpark away from the rebuilding Yankees this spring. Should that continue, would the Yankees and their brand partners bite the bullet and start promoting Rodriguez like they do their lesser stars? Or is the legal risk too great, with short term pain being better for the long term legal gain?
In the daily media grind, manager Joe Girardi handles each question tactfully and moves on. On the promotional side, fans can come to get their Tanaka bobbleheads later this month and will cheer for Pettite when he is honored this summer without any issue or backlash.
However for ARod, the sound of promotional silence continues. For how long is anyone’s guess at this point. We are a forgiving lot as fans for the most part, and we love a comeback. Will the Yankees find a way that makes sense, even subtly, to forgive and move on. Tough and complex call for the organization, but one worth watching as the weather, and the record book, heats up in The Bronx.