One of the biggest problems I see with baseball marketing is that baseball is marketed as “baseball the game”, not as a following of personalities. While there will always be those who follow the game for the wins, the losses, and the statistics, marketing personalities is what will hook casual fans quicker and faster.
Think about pro wrestling. The casual fan is drawn more into the storyline than the actual moves. Only the most dedicated fan can tell you who does the best hurricanrana, has the best dropkick, etc. But almost every fan can tell you about John Cena’s personality or why the Undertaker scares them.
Although not every baseball player wants to be known as a personality, some don’t mind being public figures. Chris Archer is one of those players. Very few Rays personalities stand out as much as Chris Archer. Archer’s appearance in the postseason on ESPN as a commentator showed the world what Tampa Bay fans already knew, Chris Archer is one of the most well-spoken, intelligent, charismatic young players in Major League Baseball.
Chris Archer is bi-racial, has a 100-watt smile, and plays the game with with enthusiasm. If he was an infielder, people would call him the second coming of Derek Jeter.
But Archer doesn’t play for the Yankees, he plays for the team with the lowest attendance in Major League Baseball and a team with a fanbase struggling for recognition and respect.
Can the Rays capitalize on Archer’s newfound popularity and all-star status and get fans to the park to see him pitch? Can the Rays make his starts #ArcherDay, as the Mets have built a cult following around Matt Harvey?
It begins with awareness.
This article will look at the ways to market Chris Archer, by order of importance. We will then look possible difficulties the Rays marketing team would have in selling Archer to the fanbase.
Marketing Archer in the Community
As much as he is seen on ESPN and on MLB Network, Chris Archer has also become a presence for good in the Tampa Bay community.
Archer has been nominated for the heralded Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”
Each team has one nominee and the Rays nominee is Chris Archer.
Archer’s work in the community has been well-documented in local media. But more can be done, especially from the Rays perspective. Archer could lead Rays community efforts or lead other altruistic efforts throughout Tampa Bay. The Rays already sponsor Give Day Tampa Bay, so why not put their most charitable player as the face of the effort?
If the Rays really want to invest, they could match Archer dollar-for-dollar in any charity he supports.
Marketing Archer’s Appearance
With his afro in full effect, Archer has a very unique appearance. During the season, Archer tweeted the idea of an “afro night” at Tropicana Field. Hopefully in 2016, this becomes a reality. Perhaps accompanying a ’70s Night promotion.
Trying to convince @RaysBaseball to do an Afro give away on a day I pitch later in the season. Would anyone be interested?
— Chris Archer (@ChrisArcher42) August 13, 2015
Starting with the Rays giveaway, the Rays should encourage fans to wear their afro wigs to Archer’s starts. I’ve often advocated the importance of “fan groups” in creating a fun atmosphere. How better than through costume? What if everyone entering Tropicana Field with an afro wig on day Archer pitches received a voucher for a free hotdog and a coke?
The Rays can also promote an #AfrosForArcher hashtag on social media. And maybe linking appearance with charity, perhaps every Archer afro giveaway could be coupled with Locks of Love or other hair-type charity.
Marketing Archer on the Mound
Simply on ability, there are only a few pitchers in Major League Baseball who are “must see” draws. Driven by the Legend of Fernandomania, sports media love to think fans are attracted to aces. And they might right be as the follow chart shows.
But we can’t say these pitchers are the only variable effect attendance without factoring out per day of the week, promotions, opponent, and other variables. And that might take a little more math than I am will to do at this point.
Of Archer’s 17 home starts, 9 were on weekdays (Mon-Thurs). Discounting Opening Day, Archer’s starts drew an average of 13,228 – 988 fans over the weekday average of 12,240. On his weekend starts, games Archer started averaged 19,615 fans – 1,287 fans more than the weekend average of 18,328.
Again, this doesn’t consider promotions – Archer pitched on a Wednesday camp day and prior to three post-game concerts.
Unfortunately, while there was an increase in average attendance when he took the mound in 2015, Chris Archer is tied with Matt Moore for the most games pitched since 2008 (3) in which attendance failed to reach 10,000.
That’s not good.
Marketing Archer on the mound would focus on baseball fans who pay attention to every pitch, every strategy, and Archer’s ability. This would require building storylines around Archer’s stats, such as when he set the team record for strikeouts in a season. Fans concerned with watching Archer would be interested in that narrative.
This type of marketing would have get people talking and focused on what Archer is achieving. This is difficult and not something that worked well with David Price, but did work with Scott Kazmir when he was the only Devil Rays pitcher worth seeing.
A few years ago, I wrote about the popularity of former Rays star Carl Crawford. I postulated that Crawford’s background and upbringing from the rough streets of Houston contributed to his lack of marketability. I stated that Longoria or Zobrist were easier to market due to their similarity to the prime baseball demographic.
Marketing Chris Archer would have a similar problem. While baseball celebrates their multi-ethnic array of players, their biggest demographic remains over 50 years old, white, and male. The same demographic who idolized Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, etc. The same demographic who think Chris Archer should “get a haircut” and “play the game the right way”.
While they might follow his stats, they won’t wear an afro wig, and Chris Archer won’t be their favorite player. Granted, they are not everyone in that demographic, but they exist. Chris Archer, social media, and afros don’t speak to them. They would need another marketing pitch to lure them in to rooting or buying tickets. Perhaps Longoria or Kevin Cash would be able to better connect.
Chris Archer is great, both on the mound and in the community. He is the kind of player teams and marketing departments should celebrate. And while the Rays are celebrating, 2016 could bring more opportunities and avenues to promote their new ace.