Biz of Baseball Tech: MLB.com

Here is the latest stop-by done by Columbia alum Tanner Simkins. This one os with a fellow program alum, Jim McCloud at MLB Advanced Media. Tanner take a few minutes with Jim to talk about the biz of BAM.

Jim McCloud serves as the Vice President of Sponsorship Sales MLB Advanced Media. We sat down with Jim for a discussion on digital, landscape trends, and more. (A detailed biography of Jim McCloud is provided after the Q&A)

Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about you and your work with MLBAM?

Jim McCloud: I’m the Vice President, Sponsorship Sales at MLB.com.  I oversee the Midwest region selling nationally across MLB.com and all 30 club sites.  I also manage the relationships with the following clubs from a digital sales perspective the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, and Houston Astros.

FCP: What’s the largest obstacle when it comes to digital sales?

JM: The largest obstacle is the changing landscape of digital media.  The product we sell is a compelling product and we’re an innovative company which certainly makes my job easier.  However, with the shift in eye balls to mobile and people consuming our content in so many places we need to make sure that we are wherever the fan is whether that be on MLB.com, in our At Bat App, on social media, etc.  So we constantly need to monitor where the eyeballs are and make sure our strategy aligns with the consumption patterns of our fans.  What works today might not work tomorrow.

FCP: Describe your leadership style

JM: I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great mentors who have taught me a lot about leadership and grew up playing sports through college.  So for me it’s important to have a team environment, where everyone trusts one another and pushes each other to get better.  Good thing is I’ve been at MLB.com for five years and have held numerous positions so while I’m hands on, I also give my team the ability and freedom to make decisions and am there to support them as they work through certain situations and obstacles that arise.  Since I’ve faced many of their challenges during my time at BAM I’m able to help work through certain issues.

FCP: What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?

JM: Mobile continues to dominate the digital landscape as it’s become the first screen for users.  However, no one has truly figured out the best way to monetize the medium given the limited amount of space, so we’ve been working to develop different ways to create value for our partners.  It will also be interesting to follow the launch of iBeacons in MLB stadiums this year as it’s another new technology that we will be experimenting with.

FCP: Who is someone you learned the most from? What did they teach you?

JM:  Bob Bowman is someone who has been a great mentor to me.  He’s been instrumental in my development and someone who has led by example.  He’s truly an innovator and what he’s been able to build at MLB.com speaks for itself.  Bob has challenged me since the day I stepped foot into BAM and has pushed me to think outside the box and has taught me to always move forward and innovate.  I’ll forever be grateful to him for the amount of time he’s invested in me and the opportunities he’s provided me.

FCP: What is your biggest regret?

JM: There are no real regrets thus far in my career as I’ve worked for two great companies in CBS Sports and MLB.com.  The mistakes I’ve made have all contributed to the progression of my career and for that I don’t regret anything.

FCP: If you go back, what would you tell you?

JM: If I could go back, I would tell myself to enjoy the moments from college and the time I spent with my teammates playing baseball.  Those are moments you take for granted and as you move on into the professional world and you have more personal and professional commitments, you think back to some of those days.  You don’t realize how much fun those days were and how valuable they were to shaping who you are.

FCP: What was the last book you read?

JM: Seal Team 6

FCP: Any tips for aspiring sports professionals who may be reading this?

JM: The biggest question is how do you plan to differentiate yourself from others?  Sports is a competitive field that many people want to work in and it’s those individuals that create their own luck that are the ones that break in and succeed. Networking, internships, and putting yourself in positions to display your skills, in my opinion are keys to getting an opportunity, then once your foot is in the door the rest is up to you.  The hardest part is breaking in so it’s those individuals that are resourceful and strategic that find a way in and succeed.

MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media) is a full service solutions provider delivering world-class digital experiences for over ten years and distributing content through all forms of interactive media. Our digital leadership and capabilities are a direct result of an appreciation for designing dynamic functionality for web, mobile applications, and connected devices while integrating live and on-demand multimedia, providing valuable products for millions of fans around the globe.

As Regulations Change, Will .Fans Be the Engagement Platform of The Future?

Every day we comb the digital world looking for new, more efficient and unique ways not just to engage, but to engage more effectively. If you are a league, a team or a brand in sports and entertainment, you spend hours trying to use the most effective tools to quickly and cleanly reach not just the masses, but the most effective core you can. Content may be king, but ROI is queen, at least. So in the not too distant future may come another way where teams, leagues, brands, even talent, can better align and engage. It is not a new technology per se, it is really a play on a basic platform, albeit much more customized, and perhaps easier to organize and identify with those core followers everyone in business needs to reach.  

The organization who regulates the internet, (ICANN – Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has licensed 1,300 NEW web extensions to be released over the next few years. From (dot)guru to (dot)marketing to (dot) photography, these extensions will provide better signposting for marketing messages. The new web extensions or gTLD’s (Generic Top Level Domains) are the letters that are RIGHT OF THE DOT…they provide messaging that is specific to clients wants and needs…

Google and Amazon have invested tens of millions of dollars in the new gTLDs. They and other leading web companies see new gTLDs as a core element of the future of the internet, making it easier for users to find the content they want, and easier for brands and companies to monetize online relationships. With consumers attention being spread thinner than ever, across multiple online destinations, the new web extensions will allow companies to create websites with short punchy domain addresses that speak directly to what the end-user is looking for at that site.

One TLD that is launching in early 2015 and is targeted towards teams, leagues, brands, music artists or anyone who has fans to engage is (dot)FANS, and it is positioned as the NEW web address for fan engagement. It will provide the opportunity to create a complimentary website to an existing .com or act as a messaging tool that points at existing content at their .com address. And be a destination that they own and control.

As an example, a broadcast network might build a marketing campaign around their content and drive fan engagement by utilizing football.fans, soccer.fans, baseball.fans, golf.fans etc.; so a network like Fox can take existing programming “FOX SPORTS the home of true FANS” and use the TLDs to point to that content which is highly organized and highly relevant to that core fan who might not want to search through a host of tabs or Geico could target their marketing message in on some of their sponsorships and utilize geicogolf.fans for promotions behind their activation in that sport.

Teams and leagues and athletes may  have unlimited new real estate to market against and gain new eyeballs, which will help them utilize their existing .com website better. A team such as the Red Sox can effectively and inexpensively build a specific site redsox.fans to house all their fan engagement and social media elements on one home landing page, which could make for more involvement by fans visiting and looking just for key content that appeals to a set group of die-hards without having to search through pages that are not appealing to them.

The .fans platform will have its issues, as huge amounts of digital rights have been poured into existing agreements, and countless millions have been spent creating effective portals as could exist before the new gTLD’s were released. Sports and entertainment are also tribal, so getting people to break old habits and patterns to engage in a new place will take some time. How would the pricing work and what would be the benefits other than ease of navigation? Will core fans be enough to sustain whatever the ancillary costs will be? All to be determined in a world where sometimes cool and hip can burn through millions fast without ROI. However as a novel engagement opportunity that is on the come, .Fans may be one to watch as it grows in the coming years and the consumer gets maybe more used to a different way to cull content, and content providers give the new platform a test drive.

The Price of Information Just Got Higher…

What price, big data? That’s becoming more and more of a question as the need for real time in depth statistics for sports around the world become more valuable to the end user, be they brands looking to add value to consumer offerings, broadcasters trying to get an edge in providing added value to viewers, or companies providing information to paying customers in the fast-growing gaming, fantasy and gambling world.  The days of waiting even minutes for detailed numbers are quickly becoming a thing of the past, as connectivity improves and transaction speeds elevate and morph into a data-driven consumer environment.

One of those companies who has found a growing service business on the back end is Chicago-area based Stats. The company’s sweet spot is in providing almost instantaneous game and player information to fantasy football applications and TV broadcasters through partnerships they have with leagues such as the NBA and over 230 organizations sports leagues globally.  Some of the data is proprietary, some is shared, but from the US to China and India, the company co-owned by Fox and Associated Press News Service is a must-have for over 600 clients around the world who pay top dollar for their back-end service.  Now Stats is not the only company with high-end data deals. The UK-based company, Perform, is also a mega-player in the space, licensing out their data in sports like soccer to broadcasters and others with a need for raw information or customized feeds. The Elias Sports Bureau has long been the source for Major League Baseball data, along with the work that MLB.com does as well. Then there are also smaller providers who pull data close to real time from the public domain and service other outlets who need the information for their consumer services, but not in light speed. So the space can be muddled, and because there are a finite number of games being played at any one point, the data collection does have somewhat of a ceiling.

However what does not right now have a ceiling is the way analytics can be used by any number of growing global audiences and who can ultimately pair that data with consumer-facing businesses or media companies to turn a profit margin.  Connectivity for the consumer in the mobile space, an area which is still growing in fits and starts in North America, makes the customizable data even more valuable as services like pay fantasy games, lottery games involving stats, and eventually mobile gambling outside of where it is currently licensed in Nevada, becomes more and more of a viable tool for revenue in sports. And as that viability increases, the data providers become more valuable.

How valuable? That market appears to be coming clearer. A report in Wednesday’s  New York Post said that STATS is seeking a buyer for their technology services and their licenses and partnerships at around $200 Million dollars. If that is a realistic number, then other data providers can fall into line for what their market value is, depending on the amount of proprietary content they can offer. That number is also one that has value in today’s environment, where analytics are being provided to a very select number of gambling organizations who can use the data for their clients legally. They include sports books in Nevada and then other houses in countries where wagering is legal at this time. If and when sports gambling becomes legal in the US outside of Las Vegas, those relationships held by STATS and others become infinitely more valuable.  That data is not just of value to the companies providing information to potential gamers and gamblers; it also has value for brands that may go and create their own fantasy games or apps for fans to engage during live sporting events. Companies like SAP or Microsoft for example, can build very elaborate platforms to engage their customers, but without the back-end data their offerings won’t be as robust. That is where the value of a data provider really comes into play in the consumer world.

So where all this data mining go for companies that were in early like a STATS, an Elias, or a Perform?  That is the question at this point. The value is in what a consumer or a media company will pay, and with multiple lower cost providers out there mining what is essentially free information as games go on, what is the fair market price for information. All that is still to be determined, but in a world where the consumer, the media company, even the league and the athlete, has an ever-growing thirst for customized and proprietary data, the market appears to be growing, and a price, maybe $200 million at least for a part of the business, may about to be set.  

Trading For Brand Exposure…

The relative quiet of post-MLB All-Star has given way to NFL Training camp and one of the most active times of the year for baseball before the pennant races kick in…the MLB Trading Deadline. The Trading deadline, now at the end of July, grabs a lion share of the media and public attention, even if it is just for select hours at a time. Fans fret and wonder, experts ponder, talk shows speculate, blogs fill up as player movement is rumored and franchise futures hang in the balance. While some may say that the days are examples of healthy franchises taking the hammer to the less fortunate, in reality the days are all about hype, hope and possibility for every team, even those not making moves. The ability to send positive messages even with inaction is high, and it is a prime time for fan engagement. Like National Signing Day in college for football, there is a media frenzy with blockbuster moves, hurried press conferences and lots of attention, whether your team is good or not. In recent years, media outlets like ESPN and CBS College have gone to great lengths to brand and activate on signing day, but why not on trading deadline day?

Now the outlets like MLB Network and MLB.com are tied to all things trade deadline, even bringing in Old Spice on MLB Network as a sponsor of all things in the rumor mill. However the ownership of the Deadline, and the activity surrounding the week, still comes and goes.  For all the millions financial houses spend on sport, no one steps forward to own all things about trades, replete with fan interaction that can reward those who are on, or well off, with trade predictions as the deadline comes.

Granted many trades do happen the day before or a few days before.  but the activity leading up to the deadline, which is a hard and fast time, is phenomenal, and summary shows, best trades/worst trades, smartest mover, smartest not to move etc., could all be packaged together for brands that already spend or might want to find yet another unique way to engage with unique content. Especially now with the immediacy of social media to deliver eyeballs and buzz, there are any number of platforms that can be creatively engaged to deliver the latest and greatest around the hype and results of such big move days for MLB.  Now baseball is not the only sport that lives and dies with the deadline for fans. The NBA has its mega-activity day as well, and that also goes relatively unscathed in terms of broad scale activation.

Say what you want about good preying on bad or weak, the trading deadline for baseball sits right in the middle of a long run of summer baseball, and remains one of the solid activation days on the sports calendar yet to find a brand owner.

The Dickey Brand Grows…

As we near the Presidential election I keep waiting for President Obama or Governor Romney to invoke the name of R.A. Dickey as they search to find metaphors to engage casual voters in their narrative. They have used various platforms to gain support tied to sport…Olympics, NASCAR, hoops, golf, some baseball…but not yet the knuckleballing Cy Young Award candidate for the New York Mets. Why would they be interested in the Dickey story? Let’s see. he is a thirtysomething white male who has overcome great adversity to find an entreprenurial way to succeed in his field against great odds. He is an Olympic athlete, an All-American, a father, a success story on the largest of stages, a great positive example of the American Dream. He has string ties to the south but works in the most urban of environs, he is not flashy or overstated, he doesn’t look or act like an elite athlete…he goes to work and gets his job done. Sound like a good story to bring up on the campaign trail? It’s also why the brand of R.A. Dickey may be the best brand to come out of another exciting season of the business of baseball

I am a little biased being a Mets fan and also having worked on the “Knuckleball” film project the past few months. However it is because of that exposure that the Dickey brand looks ripe to be engaged. Here are some other thoughts as to why.

By luck and determination, the multi-media side of Dickey is already accessible to anyone who wants it anywhere. This past spring, Dickey’s life story was written by Wayne Coffey, detailing not just his on-field experiences but his struggle to overcome family and personal issues and his belief in using his fame, which was limited at the time, for a great good. Then you have the fortutious opening of the documentary “Knuckleball,” which tells the story of Dickey and the other knuckleballers BEFORE all the hype and success arrived this year. It gives anyone a chance to see these players and their stories really unvarnished and in many cases away from the limelight. It is not a forced rush to production to capitalize on Dickey’s run this year…it all takes place BEFORE, giving his appeal even more universality.

With all due respect to Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals, Dickey has achieved his success this year in the biggest media market with a team that is greatly challenged to win. He does not have the support of the Nationals hitters and he does have the brightest of lights shone on him…that makes his success this year all the more marketable. That potential 20th win and a potential Cy Young Award also is great for brand baseball. Like it or not, winning in New York helps lift the tide of the sport.

While he pitches in new York, it is also of great appeal that Dickey is not just a New Yorker. He has strong ties to Tennessee, and to the many stops where he has left his mark across the country. That means that brands don’t have to worry about his appeal being just to Madison Avenue. his workman like approach and his surprising success can make him interesting to everything from tool companies to media brands…he is well spoken with a solid social media following as well. His appeal to faith-based programs will also make him very appealing on the speaking circuit and could even tie him to other brands (Chick-Fil-A anyone?) and his interest in young people and education will also give his upcoming children’s book (another gift of great timing) another bounce when it comes out.And for the video game generation? The knuckleball is tailor-made for all the nuances of online engagement and fun.

Sure there may be a worry that Dickey’s amazing year may be just that…a one trick pony. However a 20 game win season does have long-term brand value no matter what comes next, and a Cy Young Award will help to double down on any brand looking to hitch on very soon. There is also a feeling that throwing a knuckleball at 37 will give Dickey another strong set of years ahead of him, as the pitch doesn’t destroy the arm or diminish with age. There is always risk with athletes, but with someone like R.A. Dickey, it seems the reward can outweigh the risk. By the way, Dickey himself  also has to buy-in to the hype and support the brands who want to support him as well, an element that still has to be examined, but one that should be able to be overcome.

There are many splashy and sexy stars who have emerged from this season… the great Trout of the Angels, Harper and Strasburg of the Nats, the ever-interesting cast of the Giants, the Tigers’ Verlander and on and on. However when the dust settles, and if he can get umber 20, R.A. dickey’s everyman story may trump them all for the year and may just be the one that brand marketers will talk about as the all-encompassing pone that is a great across the board fit not just for 2012, but for a few years going forward.

Ready to climb aboard as well candidates? Don’t miss the story.

 

A “Little” Social Media Mix In Williamsport?

We are all aware of the explosion, good and bad, of youth sports in America. Every family is scheduled, and too many families it seems are tied to this manic obsession with athletic success. One of, if not the biggest, youth sports event is just on the horizon, the Little League World Series. Little League has always been in rarefied air in terms of media exposure, with its longstanding broadcast every year on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Now early rounds find their way to ESPN and ESPN2, even bumping key soccer matches from the tube (as happened this past week with USA-Mexico) so we can watch the little leaguers take their swings. Little League has been both praised and vilified by media and parents in the never-ending battle for exposure, both good and bad. For every ten or 12 positive stories gracing blogs, newspapers and television, there is the one bad story about age fixing or poor sportsmanship that makes it to the top of the page. Brands have found ways to activate to some degree of success in the space, often times using Little League World Series alums like Fred Lynn to tell the positive stories of their experiences not just in Little League, but with baseball’s life lessons in general.

In addition to the traditional exposure this year will be the social media exposure that the LLWS can generate, either on its own or virally. Although there hasn’t been much controversy in the space thus far, an overexcited or entreprenurial parent out there could take to the social space to post some first hand accounts of the games good and bad…although twitter is not really the messenger of choice for those 18 and under, there could be some brothers and sisters, or coaches, who may find ways to use social media to have fun and share positive experiences from Williamsport. Facebook is a natural to follow the teams moving from regionals to the World Series, since it would not be surprising to see many of the participants online and engaged with their friends at that age. Will LLWS shot off the digital space, will coaches block kids and staff access to the internet on their trip to Williamsport? Will there be a texting controversy over a close call?

Now it doesn’t all have to be about exploitation. There are many, many positive stories that get told through the eyes of the LLWS every year. It is a very difficult road to get to Williamsport. Many groups have huge obstacles to overcome with fundraising and sacrifice, and the digital space can be a great call to action for those stories as well as the great charity and underdog stories we hear about with each team. There is also the great international aspect that does bring together teams from all over to play, and the digital space can be a great common ground there as well. Regardless it will be interesting to see if some new territory can be forged, or will it be avoided, in social media as the baseball eyes turn to the LLWS.

USA Baseball Cleans The Closets, Grows Their Following…

Sometimes a little clutter is the spark for innovation, and the folks at USA Baseball, the national governing body for the National Pastime, seem to have come up with new incentive for those late on their spring cleaning. USAB remains an undervalued resource for many in the lexicon of baseball, many times placed between the quaintness of little League and the success of the professional side. However nary a pro has made it to The Bigs without benefiting from the training or exposure that USA Baseball brings through its development programs, international and national tournaments. The growth of baseball as a global game would not be where it is, where it not for the work of USA Baseball working with its compatriots in other national federations or with MLB to help grow the game.

So it should come as no surprise with all that work that a great number of valuable and unique mementos gather at the USAB headquarters in North Carolina from time to time. It should also come as no surprise, since USAB is all about young developing males who have taken to the digital world, that the governing body should look to the digital space to grow its footprint and exposure. So into the mix came a solid idea, hold a summer long series of promotions designed to get some unused “memorabilia” into the hands of fans, with the social media space as the catalyst. The result is a summer long promotion, “9 innings,” which has fans join USAB’s social media platforms in order to be involved in a giveaway for some fun items, ranging from signed Bryce Harper to Clayton Kershaw items. Each “inning” runs for ten business days, with an item going each day to a deserving fan. The result? Some good buzz and increased awareness for USA Baseball among casual fans, a jump of over 50% for the Federation’s twitter followers, and most importantly for those minding the storage space, closets which will now be a little more empty for the next round of items to come in from various elite events.

In a day and age where all entities are looking to grow following and move some distressed merch after a long season or series of years, USA Baseball came up with a fun and innovative one that helps everyone, especially those who love the game. A homer of a promotion with no downside and little effort, just ingenuity.

What’s Next For The Jeter Brand? Follow Yogi’s Lead…

As the baseball world heads to All-Star and everyone celebrates the brand of Derek Jeter, It is interesting to see how Brand Jeter going forward can take some pointers from another Yankee great…Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

Yogi Berra’s legacy is as vibrant today as it was when the St.Louis native first arrived in the area to take the first steps as a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees. The difference today is that Berra legacy is not just about sports or his Italian American heritage or even his larger than life presence in and around Montclair. It is about pride and education, a legacy which can now be told year-round to an even larger audience with the recent re-opening of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, hard by the first base line of Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, New Jersey.

The Center opened recently following a $3.2 million renovation, with Berra and a host of luminaries like Bob Costas and Joe Torre on hand to celebrate. The original museum opened in the late 1990s on the campus of Montclair State. Its space was filled with memorabilia from Berra’s career, and hosted a slew of events over the years. However, other than Yogi himself, many of the pieces became static, and the site needed a facelift.

The new center houses plenty of things Yogi, and features new video displays and other tidbits to enhance the experience, as well as the stadium shaped auditorium, which will host more programs dedicated not just to baseball, but to learning experiences for all ages, with programs that focus on sportsmanship and social justice, two traits Berra has always held in high regard on and off the diamond.

But how can Berra’s legacy, built on malapropisms and baseball, withstand such a test of time? The key comes from the man himself, someone who was able to balance a successful business career in the offseason with a legendary career on the field. A man who stood by his principals and rarely bent the rules, and went on to take those same ideals to the front office, leading both the Mets and Yankees to the World Series.

The Yogi brand was seen on Yoo-hoo and Wiffle balls, in commercials and card shows, and was never associated with anything that was controversial in nature. It is a brand that stands for loyalty and family, and as the years go on, has incorporated stronger social values and education into the plan as well. All of those factors speak very clearly in a challenged society, and have made the museum and learning center so much more than the precious artifacts it has and the events it holds. It speaks to a larger societal issue of positive values and dedication to community, which is really why the Yogi brand has continued so long. Yes it is about a quirky former ballplayer and the stories he can still tell so well. But more importantly it stands for quality in a world where sometimes quantity is placed on a higher level.

How does this serve as a primer for Jeter?
His image as an endorser has been handpicked and pristine. No questionable ads, no risqué products. Some in the media may have questioned deals with collectors like Steiner Sports for his shoes etc., but the man has never restricted access to the public and does yeoman work with his Turn Two Foundation, so answering the demand of a public looking for memorabilia is not a bad thing, and does not besmirch his image.

Now going forward it does not seem like Jeter will be the money grabbing opportunist, given his past. Spots for prime endorsements, yes. The ability to forge a legacy through education? Probably. And for that model, number 2 needs to look just up the chain of Yankee heroes to Number 8 for a legacy of a model brand that has been effective and transcends time.

Tigers’ Martinez Loses The Vote, Wins On Creativity

MLB’s fan-riven final spots for the All-Star team have always made for fun competition, and in the past few years the advent of social media components have driven the fan awareness factor to new heights. The teams have come up with a series of creative campaigns to drive awareness, making the old process of ballot box stuffing a thing of the past, while helping bring more casual awareness to the game and to the Mid-summer Classic, one of the few All-Star competitions in professional sport which still finds ways to draw renewed interest every year. So while the Phillies Shane Victorino and the White Sox Paul Konerko earned the victory by grabbing the last two All-Star spots through fan votes, it was really the Detroit Tigers late creative push that stole the show and maybe grabbed the most publicity of any All-Star push. A combination of good timing and a cute charismatic young face brought the Tigers Victor Martinez storming through the pack in the final days, almost taking the spot of his division rival in next Tuesday’s game.

The campaign was simple and effective. Martinez’s young son Victor Jose Martinez, took the stage in full Tigers regalia, accompanied by dad and mascot, and delivered a simple, and multilingual pitch to fans to vote for his dad. In a few hours the video, which also had a nice little pop from the Tigers mascot, became a You Tube sensation, and the casual votes for Martinez flooded in. It was not expensive, it was not flashy. It delivered a simple message with the youngest and most sincerest of fans, and really spoke to the effective traditions of baseball…the relationship and the legacy of a game passed down from father to son. It was a great reminder that even in an over the top digital world, the most basic of campaigns can still be effective if they are sincere and speak to the core message, and in the case the Martinez family delivered a simple message that transcended the ages and the commercialism we deal with every day. It was fun, crisp and clean, and certainly worthy of all the attention it delivered. Hopefully even with Victor missing the game, the campaign finds its way to the Fox broadcast on Tuesday, as it is certainly worthy of All-Star promotion. Nice reminder of all the good in the business again by Detroit, a franchise which has been at the heart of a recovering region for the past few years.

Big League Affiliation, No Minor Deal…

Like in many parts of the United States, Minor League baseball across New Jersey is firmly entrenched in the fabric of Garden State sports. From the inner cities of Newark and Camden to suburban Sussex County and The Shore, the ritual of packing up the kids for an inexpensive and fun night at the ballpark is not unlike what families used to be able to do with the Mets, Yanks or Phillies, whose prices and experience are now more the exception for family entertainment, not the rule, due to the high price of the MLB experience.

All the teams across the state offer their own customized experience of mascots, food, and in game fun that provides a great day or night for kids of all ages. The difference in between the states’ two Major League affiliated franchises, the Trenton Thunder (Yankees) and the Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies) showed again last week, with Derek Jeter making an injury rehab stop in Trenton for a few days before returning to the Majors. That type of brand recognition and affiliation as a chance to really see the next stars of the game gives Trenton and Lakewood just a slightly added edge for the casual fan who may want to get that first glimpse at the future of the game. The financial offset (the parent clubs pay salaries an expenses for players and baseball staff) is also a boost for Trenton and Lakewood, but those intangibles of future stars are what can make or break in pulling dollars for attendance and concession, which leads to more money to invest back into the fan experience.

Now that is not to say that the Newark Bears or New Jersey Jackels or even the new Rockland Boulders just to the north don’t provide quality product. In many cases the play on the field for those teams, who have former MLB players in some cases and guys fighting to get recognized, is a bit higher than with the affiliated teams. But the cache of being associated and being able to use the marks and name of the parent club, especially ones that do as well as the Phillies and the Yankees, gives the other two franchises just that much more of an edge when selling their product to the casual fan. We live in a world where brand value and association is tantamount to success, and although we love to root for the underdog, we love even more being associated with best in class.

By being close enough to their parent club that a Jeter or a Cole Hamels can make a stop by and play a day or two on their field, Trenton or Lakewood get street cred that is hard to beat, and that spillover effect lasts long past the few days those stars are in uniform. It serves as a reminder to the fan that the players they see every day could be the next Jeter or Hamels as well. Does that make all the difference in the world for minor league entertainment? No. But it makes a slight difference, and when every dollar goes to the bottom line in the business of minor league baseball, those differences add up. The Thunder had three of their biggest crowds ever this past weekend, as well as a lifetime of memories for fans in a frenzy as Jeter chases hit number 3,000.