On the first weekend of summer in New York you come across two events honoring players of the far and recent past; Yankees Old Timers Day and the Launch of Big Three, the new three on three basketball touring that is the brainchild of Ice Cube and features not current or rising but former NBA names looking to get a competitive mojo still going while giving hoops fans a little post NBA Draft fix.
They are certainly two different business models; Big 3 is about basketball culture and fulfilling an anticipated need to connect core fans to names they know while bringing young fans in who love the current but may not be old or engaged enough to know the stars of the recent past that well as well as the Hall of Fame coaches involved), while Old Timers Day is more fun nostalgia as an appetizer for a day of baseball in The Bronx.
However both look to serve a common, often overlooked niche; connecting stars of the past to the audience of today, which to be viable needs to engage both a young rising crowd as well as those more senior who by the way, understand who they are watching and have some disposable income.
Now with regard to baseball, it is with some shock and disappointment that amidst the Yes Network’s televising of Yankees Old Timers Day it was mentioned that it is the only annual official Old Timers celebration in baseball (some teams do various events but the Yankees claim to be the only full blown promotion), surprising as that may seem. A sport that prides itself on its history and tradition, that once had a sponsored nationwide series that honored its stars of the past in ballparks across the country, has dismissed an annual gathering as cost prohibitive and unsponsorable. Maybe it’s time for a relook which can even be bolstered by the interest in Big 3, here is why.
First, one of the beauties of Yankees Old Timers is not just for its superstars, it’s to honor some of the players who meant much to the team yet were not Hall of Fame quality. For every Reggie Jackson, there was Brian Doyle. For every Derek Jeter there was Pat Kelly. It is a celebration of all pieces of the brand, with many sponsorable parts if needed. Many former players would look for ancillary dollars for meet and greets and clinics, or maybe a more extensive panel on a select event in team history, a championship anniversary for example. Those dollars and the value they bring in good will add up over time, especially with athletes who will not command high dollars for their alumni. It does not have to be overly commercial, but the added value to bring in guys…planned out well in advance, can make an annual event a winner.
However one of the hidden gems that still goes ignored in the sales area remains special events and programs tailored towards Baby Boomers. Teams always strive to cater to the young, the hip, the time crunched, yet those with ancillary dollars to spend and an interest in the sport and its past stars are those 50 and older. Creating an event, or a series of events, that include “Old timers” but geared toward that audience would make great sense again. It takes time to plan and execute, but that demo, especially that demo that is active, is still very well sought after by brands, and combining a feel good event like an Old Timers Day with a brand targeting baby boomers would be a win for both. Even for teams who say that it is too cost prohibitive to bring in former stars from around the country there are plenty of solutions…local legends, former MLB’ers from other teams, front office officials, coaches etc all make for great guests, great talk and great memories.
In other sports there are both good and bad in alumni programs as well. The Packers do an amazing job with their alumni, as do the Giants in the NFL. However there is not the tradition that there is in baseball, where recent retirees can still take the field and get in a few licks for an inning or two. hopefully the connection to the past is revived through Old Timers activities at parks around the country. As the population ages the opportunity grows again, and so could the sponsor dollars.
On the basketball side, the competitive aging or former star model has been tried in many sports, none with a great deal of success. The NBA even tried 3 on 3 as part of All-Star and abandoned it because of the lack of hyper competitiveness and the fact that older players may not be in prime shape. Big 3 will test that theory starting Sunday and across the summer.
Where both sides can expand their footprint is on the digital and social side. Big 3 has some athletes who have a presence, Old Timers Day probably does not. However building those elements as platforms for engagement, especially if you want to reach a rising group of seniors and a younger audiences, can be a great piece of storytelling.
So yes, we love fast and new and are quick to chase and look at new trends. However while doing so it probably makes sense to also remember the past near and far, and including Old Times Days and even in some ways what Bog 3 is doing into the marketing mix isn’t just a good thing to do, it makes smart business sense for all, especially as teams, league and brands constantly chase some new ROI.
Hoops and baseball of a vintage set, have at it.