“Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher” — one of the most prevailing wisdoms in baseball. It speaks to the sport’s uniqueness in that no matter what the starting lineups, the performance of your starting pitcher that day will in large part determine your team’s success. It also speaks to the even-keeled mentality of baseball — never get too up or too down. Well, the Los Angeles Dodgers are challenging the traditional themes we’ve become accustomed to in baseball, and in doing so, are writing their own rules for a sport that’s ready for some new ink.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves here. The Dodgers are a big-market, high-payroll team with resources for days. Their new local TV deal with Time Warner Cable is in the billions. This is not an underdog stringing together a Cinderella season. Their amazing success this year speaks in greater terms to how the culture of the franchise has swung 180 degrees in the other direction right in front of our eyes.
Just two short years ago, the Dodgers were mired in ugly divorce proceedings from their previous owner (no pun intended), and the black cloud that hung over the organization and its fan base loomed ominous. Since then, the new ownership group (with Magic Johnson and his $50 million investment in tow) has made it extremely evident that they will go to any length to put a winner on the field, which is all any fan can ask for.
But there are plenty of well-assembled teams full of homegrown farm products, high-ticket free agents, late-season veteran pickups and maybe a couple of foreign imports. Right down the road in Anaheim you can see the flip side of this coin and their unfavorable results over this past season.
The L.A. story in 2013 is centered on how the Dodgers became the most exciting MLB team (some would argue by far) in a matter of months. Just as the age-old saying denotes: if you aren’t good, you’d better at least be interesting. Well, the Dodgers are doing both, and historically well. After a slow start to the season, the team went on a 42-8 run (best 50-game stretch by any team in the last 100 years) largely sparked by the uber-talented, flamboyant, “who knows what he’ll do next” 22-year-old Cuban phenom, Yasiel Puig. Combined with elite talents like Clayton Kershaw, Zach Grienke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Kenley Jansen, and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers have the “it” factor that you just can’t manufacture or buy. In turn, TV ratings for the 2nd half of the season were up 40%, and they enjoyed the highest attendance in the League. When you think about it, this team feels more like an NBA squad in that a group of super stars have come together to emotionally ignite and impact the culture of the sport.
Irony abounds since their owner is one of the biggest NBA stars of all time. The smile, the flash, the style and, of course, the championships. Magic played the game the way it was meant to be played; with the joy of a child and the heart of a champion. He brought L.A. and the world “Showtime” ... and now his baseball team embodies that same spirit.
What does this mean to marketers? It means the Dodgers franchise is a rocket ship, and brands have a chance to book a seat and leverage the momentum.
Here are a couple of creative thought starters for angles to do so:
1. Leverage the 180: There’s an opportunity for a brand to “own” the historic “flip the switch” season. No one really knows what happened. Maybe the team started wearing new underwear or changed their routine to include naps after batting practice. There is room for creative license here to tell the “real” story, which could be fun and make a lot of noise.
2. KKKKershaw: The modern day Sandy Koufax. Non-team sponsors can partner with the brilliant southpaw to help generate some heat for a product. The mild mannered, quiet, thoughtful star has a witty, comedic side, so there might be an opportunity to bring out his inner Peyton Manning.
3. Magic: He brought “Showtime” to the Dodgers. Midas touch. Enough said.
4. Puig: I’m sure there’s a Puig Power energy shot in the works right now but obviously a ton of fertile ground to draft off of the Puig phenomenon.
5. Vin: The legendary broadcaster just announced that he’s coming back for one more year, his 65th with the Dodgers. What better way to tell your brand story in the context of the Dodgers than voiced by arguably the best storyteller in sports history?
In a sport where the "magic" has left the building for the younger generation, it’s refreshing as a fan and a marketer to see a franchise so drastically breathe some fun and excitement into the League. I don’t think Hollywood would buy a script about a fun-loving, charismatic basketball legend assuming the helm of one of baseball’s biggest turnarounds, but it sure does make for a great reality show.