IF YOU BRAND HIM, THEY WILL VOTE

By:  Holly Horning

It has become a sad refrain every January when baseball announces its latest roster of players to enter the Hall of Fame. Fans wail over the injustice of legendary players like Tram and Lou going unrecognized.

MLB analysts are open-mouthed over the decision. Even Barry Larkin is coming to Tram’s defense; everyone it seems except for the Detroit Tiger hierarchy. (Insert sound of crickets chirping here.)

While I agree with Kurt’s premise that individual qualities such as personality, playing style and visibility have significant roles in recognition, I am also placing a large percentage of the burden on the corporate division of the Tigers because they lack an official branding department and vision.

So why is branding important? It is a practice that establishes a unique and uniform identity as well as creates a desirable value for both individuals and corporate entities. It is also the primary method companies use today to promote their products and services, increasing visibility, value and sales. If you’re inactive about branding, you’re invisible.

Branding is the umbrella under which marketing, media and communications exist. And this is where the Tigers fall short by maintaining an “old school” approach to promoting their product. And make no mistake about it – players, especially those who have worn the Old English “D” well, are considered to be product and capable of promoting and enhancing the reputation of their team, and vice versa.

It is not enough to bring players back to the park for the occasional celebration. The Tigers need to keep their retired players fresh in the minds of not just the fans, but the entire baseball world – and especially in the minds of baseball writers who never saw them play.

If the Tigers will not sing the praises of their own legendary players, who will? A visit to Comerica shows a dearth of Tiger history (pretty sure Kurt agrees with that) but most importantly, a lack of recognition and appreciation for players who gave their team everything they had. I can understand the need to officially separate the truly great from other fine players but to ignore a significant chunk of Tiger history gives an inaccurate picture of this team’s glorious history.

As a veteran consultant in the branding world, I will confess that the Tigers are one of my dream clients and I’ve spent years putting together a branding strategy for them. While I’m still waiting for Mr. I’s call, I will share the top three actions I would implement that would create a win-win situation for both the team and fans.

RETIRE NUMBERS – For one of baseball’s oldest teams, the Tigers have one of the lowest rates of retired numbers – six in 121 years. If the Yankees can retire the number of a confessed PED user, the Tigers should have no issues with retiring the numbers of two guys who each played 18 years for the same team and did it with the highest levels of professionalism. Besides, what are the chances that greater players who wear the jersey numbers #1 and #3 will come along?

TIGER HALL OF FAME – Establish a museum that is a visual record of the team’s history since 1894. Along with the Hall of Famers, include players like Tram and Lou as well as fan favorites and great player moments. Have a set of voting rules with former Tigers as the ruling committee. Maybe even allow fans to have a role. The franchise charges admission while raising visibility, promoting their future Hall of Fame candidates and potentially increasing team loyalty and game attendance. Invite retired players back for regular meet-the-fan events. Oh, and move Ernie Harwell’s massive collection of Tiger memorabilia into the museum.

COOPERSTOWN COMMITTEE – Many baseball teams assemble a strategy and package of stats and video highlights to present to the Hall of Fame voters. Additionally, they roll out a communications plan to highlight that player in the media. The Tigers need to shed their “MidWest nice” attitude and humble origins and finally realize it’s important and necessary to promote their brand.

To quote Bear Bryant, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.”

3 thoughts on “IF YOU BRAND HIM, THEY WILL VOTE

  1. Hi, Alex – Appreciate your thoughtful blog. I’m not sure if the Tram link you’re referring to is the one here – written by Kurt. I encourage you to read it as Kurt and I both have different perspectives on a good number of baseball issues. For the record, I believe Tram should be in the Hall, Whitaker not so much although some record of their work together needs to be in Cooperstown.

    Unfortunately, there’s never enough room in a blog to print all the information one wants. While my focus was on branding, it was more about the branding done from the corporate side. There is also personal branding which is done by the individual. I did mention that there were characteristics of Alan that were also factors – personality, humble nature and his fundamental playing style – which didn’t support him in the voting. Stats show that people who are able to incorporate strong personal skills with a measure of their accomplishments are most likely to be honored for their work. In other words, while we admire Tram for his demeanor, it is a liability when it comes to being recognized.

    As for Whitaker, he had a rep of being difficult socially and holding some unpopular views. Media interviews were painful and often shocking Much like Jack Morris, he never realized the connection between how his own personal brand impacted decision makers. On the opposite end, there are players in the Hall with fewer accomplishments but they understood the value of how personality and likability can create impact in their favor.

    And finally, your story about Bunning is interesting and supports the feeling many fans have about the Tigers not caring enough about their former players. This seems to go back at least three ownerships. Ah, another story for another day………

    Thanks for reading! Keep the comments coming….

    – Holly

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  2. Hi, Doug – I see my attempts at being discreet about certain players who excel at gymnastics were not overlooked. 😉 It always helps to have a connection with the crowds whether it be a move, catch phrase or jovial disposition. Appreciate the comment!

    – Holly

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