Professional sport exists to market and capitalize on the passions embodied in professional athletes, teams, and the sports themselves. Sports teams, leagues and sponsors are on a perpetual quest to associate their brands to these passions. A new trend of marketing athlete retirement has provided a unique channel for this expression. Though leagues have been honouring retired players through their respective Hall of Fames for decades, the New York Yankees have started a new trend by marketing marquee players in the last year of their careers. Consider the following:
Jorge Posada – 5-time all-star 4-time World Series champion, retired in 2011 following a 17-year career, all with the Yankees.
Mariano Rivera – MLB all-time leader in saves and games finished, retired 2013 following a 19-year career, all with the Yankees.
Derek Jeter – 14-time all-star, 5-time World Series Champion, retiring following the 2014 season after a 19-year career, all with the Yankees.
These retirements presented an exclusive opportunity for the Yankees and MLB to market their brand, not only in New York, but also across the league. This opportunity was enhanced by the fact that unlike Posada, Rivera and Jeter announced their plans to retire before the season. In recent months, the Yankees, MLB, and sponsors have used Jeter’s retirement tour to sell-out games, and market baseball to a larger audience through major ad campaigns. A recent article by Time quantitatively details the effects that this retirement campaign has had on Jeter, the Yankees, and the MLB.
These organizations and brands are drawing on Jeter’s brand equity and association with passions like commitment, dedication, longevity, and excellence. Beyond sponsors who have a natural link to sport (like Sports Drinks and Sports Apparel companies) other sponsors that I think could have a possible connection to these attributes are listed below:
Financial Planning/Retirement Planning – link to retirement, commitment, dependability
Automobiles, Gum, Batteries – link to longevity, maintenance of a high-level of performance
I acknowledge that the Yankees found themselves in a rare opportunity – they had three players within four years who had each played 17+ years with the same baseball club, each producing and maintaining a high-level of on-field performance. Add on top of that Rivera and Jeter announcing their retirements prior to the start of the season, and you have a golden egg. However, when I look at the other major sports leagues in North America, I see other franchises with the potential for similar opportunities:
NFL – Tom Brady 13 seasons all with the New England Patriots
NBA –Manu Ginobili (12 seasons), Tony Parker (13 seasons), and Tim Duncan (17 seasons) all with the San Antonio Spurs
NHL – Henrik Zetterberg (11 seasons) and Pavel Datsyuk (12 seasons) all with the Detroit Red Wings
The New York Yankees have found success in marketing retirement of highly successful players that have spent many years with their organization. Look for other franchises and sponsors to do the same as these stakeholders continue to exhaust the ways in which professional sports can be marketed for profit!