You all know by now that Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. It's the latest black eye on a sport which has been severely battered over the last few years.
But, in this post, I'd like to focus on the Dodgers and the team's marketing. Much has been made of the team's efforts around Manny: it is a case study on how to build a local-market campaign around a superstar athlete. From Mannywood to wigs to jerseys to ticket sale promotions, the Dodgers have been very aggressive in trying to build excitement among Dodger Nation through Manny. And, by the accounts I've read, it was working remarkably well...before the suspension news came down. So, if you're the Dodgers and the centerpiece of the entire effort takes a credibility/reputation hit, what do you do now?
Well, the team seems to be moving forward on the same track, almost like nothing ever happened. Manny will be back in July, after all, and he's still a part of the team. Of course, this begs several questions. Is it smart marketing to keep going with an aggressive campaign built on an athlete with a damaged reputation? What does such an effort say about the team or organization doing the marketing? Do these athletes with damaged reputations still carry marketing weight?
To the latter, generally speaking, recent precedent would suggest that a baseball player's reputation and marketability evaporate when they're hit with steroid-related suspensions/accusations. Just look at Clemens, McGwire, Bonds, Palmeiro and the long list of others in this same situation. But Ramirez' stock - although definitely weakened - still seems to have a pulse, at least. Based on what's going on with the Dodgers, it appears that he might be the guy who breaks precedent and still have a chance to be the central figure in campaigns going forward.
But what about the fact he was busted for, essentially, cheating? Doesn't that matter at all? Shouldn't this change how the Dodgers move forward? In this case, surprisingly, the answer appears to be no. Why?
Allow me to offer a couple of reasons:
- Marketing isn't just about the product, service or asset (in this case Manny) - it's also about the pool of buyers you're targeting. Successful marketing surely means that you enable a group of people to buy what you're selling. But that group first has to need or want - or you need to convince them they need or want - what you have to offer. So, as important as Manny is in this entire situation, the Los Angeles/Dodger Nation baseball marketplace is just as important. I'm no expert on Southern California culture, and I'm not trying to label Dodger Nation in any way, but from everything I've read Dodger Nation - for whatever reason - is still buying what the team is selling. Plain and simple. There's still a marketplace for the team, for Manny and for the campaign efforts the team has put forth. And no matter where you land on the right or wrong of the ethics/values involved with the situation, this truth validates the team's strategy.
- Maybe this is a sign that we've reached a critical tipping point or new stage in the public's process of dealing with the Steroid Era. I think the public could very well be so burnt out on the bad news that they just don't care anymore; just like the grief process has stages, maybe the public has gone from anger and/or denial to acceptance, and fans are choosing to move on and focus again on the game itself. Let's face it: no one is shocked anymore about players testing positive for PEDs. And Americans love baseball. There hasn't been a scandal in the game's history that has kept fans away for the long-term. Even nowadays, fans are turning out in record numbers league-wide. It seems the Dodgers have recognized this, and are simply moving on along with their fans. This doesn't mean everyone's ignored what Manny did - they just aren't dwelling on it.
That's all for now. I'm out like the Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Hawks.