The Long Term Benefit of Signing Superstars and of Winning
Note – I wrote and published this piece in January 2019, but as we head into the off-season, the points here rings true once again although the names of the free agents and star players available may have changed…
Over the last week, we have seen almost non-stop coverage of Mariano Rivera upon his unanimous election to the Hall-of-Fame and it’s been great. With this coverage, we see clips of Mariano saving game after game and along with this we also see countless highlights of the Yankees winning playoff games, pennants, and World Series. These are classic images – ones we’ll see again and again this summer as his election is celebrated and then again next year when Derek Jeter goes into the Hall-of-Fame. It is great to celebrate greatness and success.
Old pennants and old championships live forever.
This year, the Yankees will sell a ton of Mariano Rivera merchandise. There will be Mariano Rivera Yankees jerseys, Mariano Rivera Hall-of-Fame jerseys, pictures, balls, and statues with his likeness, and so much more commemorating Rivera available for purchase in the gift shops in Yankee Stadium, at the Yankees Clubhouse stores in New York, and through their on-line outlets. The result of Mariano Rivera’s past greatness will positively impact on the Yankees’ earnings in 2019. This will also continue well into the future. There will always be items such as these that will sell (and be sold) by the Yankees. The Yankees will make a ton of money off of Rivera’s greatness in 2019 and for years and years and years to come.
This is one aspect of having the superstar player that has been absent from the discussions of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter. It cannot (and should not) be forgotten that in addition to the benefit superstar players bring to the team by creating interest in the games, helping the team be more successful, and hopefully winning, these players also spawn a huge industry in clothing, memorabilia, novelty items, and collectibles. The moment these players become Yankees, they start to generate off the field profits for the franchise.
For fun, take a few minutes and do some on-line browsing at the Yankees.com on-line shop. You will notice that they are still selling items that celebrate the great Yankees of the past: Babe Ruth (15 items priced from $27.99 to $339.99), Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson (the $359.99 autographed photo ships for free!), and so many others are featured. Great players sell. They sell today…and they sell tomorrow. When the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson to a five-year $3 million contract, an astronomical figure the winter before the 1977 season, they probably knew that they’d be able to market and make money off his name and likeness well into the future. All these years later, 42 years in fact, they still are making money off of Reggie’s success in the Bronx.
Reggie was a superstar. He brought people to the stadium to watch him play. He created interest and he helped the Yankees win two World Series. In addition to that, though, Reggie still sells the Yankees brand, even today. Just as Babe Ruth does. And Lou Gehrig. And Mickey Mantle. And just how Mariano Rivera also will for decades into the future.
Great players sell merchandise. Teams profit off star players forever. Signing a star player isn’t a short-term proposition, it’s a forever proposition. The team will benefit from that player long after his contract expires. This is especially true if that player helps the Yankees win a championship (or championships). If the Yankees sign a player to a ten-year contract, they’ll be paying that player for ten years, but that player, through merchandise sales, will be paying the Yankees back forever more.
The Yankees benefit in untold countless ways when their players and championships are celebrated across the sport. When the Yankee players transcend the sport as Ruth and Mantle and Reggie and Mariano Rivera have, the team’s brand is enhanced. People who don’t even care about baseball buy Yankees hats and shirts and other items. Yankees are featured on national news shows and in non-sports magazines, and in so many other ways. In all of this, the team benefits. The player provides for the team in so many more ways than just what he does on the field.
It is important to note and wonder if the legend of Mariano Rivera would be as great if not for all the championships he helped the Yankees win. Rivera was great in the regular season. He was the best (of course). But, it was in the Post-Season that he was truly remarkable. He would be a Hall-of-Famer, no doubt, but without the post-season heroics, would he have been as famous? Would he have been a unanimous selection? I doubt it. Mariano was brought into millions and millions of more homes because he played so often in the post season. That is where his legend really grew.
And because he’s a legend, because the Yankees won so much, their brand and their franchise benefits today. When teams win, they generate interest. That interest creates new fans. Some of those fans will root for the franchise for the rest of their lives and will also pass their love of the team onto their children and their children’s children. This is how fan bases are built. In regard to the Yankees, fans come to the team because of their winning tradition and the superstar players that were, and are, Yankees. Yankees fans enjoy winning. Winning is what sells the Yankees brand. It’s also what makes the Yankees part of the long history of the sport.
When we look back on the history of baseball from the 1920’s on, we see that for most of the time periods, the Yankees are the big story. From 1920 through 1964, it is a parade of great Yankees (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Ford, Berra, Maris) and championships. Songs were written about those guys. Movies were made of them. All of this helps to sell the Yankees brand. All of this also came from winning.
But think now about the years between 1964 and 1976… will a movie be made of any of those players or teams? Is there a song about Mel Stottlemyre, Roy White, or Bobby Murcer (to say nothing of Horace Clark or Jake Gibbs)? Can one purchase merchandise of these players today at Yankee Stadium? Do the Yankees ever celebrate any of those teams? No, they don’t. They lacked the true superstar player – and they also didn’t win. Those teams are forgotten.
The baseball documentaries that chronicle the late 1960’s and early 1970’s are devoid of any reference to the Yankees. Instead, it’s the Dodgers, and the Cardinals, the Red Sox, the A’s…and , yes, the Mets, that are the stories we hear today. People don’t celebrate any Yankees from that period, instead they remember Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, and Carl Yastrzemski.
The same is true for the period between 1982 and 1994. Except for a rare Don Mattingly or Rickey Henderson highlight, and the Pine-Tar Game, the Yankees of that period are also hardly ever mentioned. The history of baseball in those periods takes place without the Yankees as a central character. We hear of George Brett, Cal Ripen, Jr., Ken Griffey, Jr., Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, and others, but no Yankees. As time passes (and I hate to say this), Don Mattingly’s legend will slowly dim and people will forget that Rickey Henderson even played in the Bronx. Most of the Henderson highlights today show him wearing the uniform of the Oakland A’s. The Yankees, in that time period, just weren’t the story. It’s a lost era. Those teams will never be celebrated.
It hasn’t been said anywhere else but here, but, the same fate is what awaits the Yankees years between 2009 and today and for as long into the future as it takes for the Yankees to win again. Right now, as exciting as they have been the last two seasons, the Yankees have not been the big story in baseball. That story has been the Red Sox and the Dodgers and the Cubs and others. The current Yankees, in the annals of the game are an after-thought.
By signing the superstar players, available right now, the Yankees can change this and become more relevant today and into the future.
What Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would bring to the Yankees, in addition to their high salaries, would be the opportunity to make them, the Yankees, the story again – but not a not a story, they would be THE story. Those players will make the Yankees better. They are superstars. They are on a Hall-of-Fame path. Both of them. Adding them to the current Yankees’ strong core only enhances the team’s ability to win, just as Reggie Jackson did for the Yankees who fell short in the World Series in 1976 just before Reggie came to the Bronx. With Reggie on the team, the Yankees didn’t fall short in 1977 and 1978. Today, these players, Harper and Machado, will make the Yankees the team that everyone notices. The Yankees would become the big show once again. That benefit does just help today, it helps forever.
Without championship rings, Aaron Judge and the others, might not become the all-time legends that they could be. Without the championships, this is just another era of Yankees history, one that will eventually be forgotten. Bringing in superstar players helps to prevent that fate.
Just imagine if Harper and Machado help the Yankees win a few World Series over the next ten years. Let’s not even get greedy and say it’s only one or two (but it could be so many more!). Those teams will be THE story. Those championship banners will fly forever. People will remember those teams forever. Forever. And because of that, the Yankees will benefit. Forever. Each time a banner or photo or pennant or anything with the Yankees logo gets sold, it would be in part because of what they brought to the franchise – especially if those items commemorate their championship teams.
And, let’s just say that both players continue to play as superstars for the duration of their contracts, or even through the first half of them, to secure the very real likelihood that they will eventually gain enshrinement in the Hall-of-Fame. When that happens, long after the contracts are paid, people will talk about them, and buy merchandise with their likeness or uniform number. This will continue for decades.
Babe Ruth died in 1948. That’s 71 years ago. How much have the Yankees benefited from Ruth and his story since then? Mickey Mantle retired in 1969, fifty years ago. There aren’t many fans who saw The Mick play. The ones that saw Mickey at his prime, in the late 1950’s, are at least in their seventies. And yet the Yankees profit from Mantle’s greatness even today. They sell Ruth and Mantle and Reggie to fans who never saw them play. Superstar players pay the Yankees back long after the Yankees are through paying them.
The same can be true for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. When their stories are told, and they will be told, those stories could be about how they helped bring the Yankees back to their former greatness. This is an opportunity that the franchise has, right now, that will define them, forever forward.
Wouldn’t it be great if when those players, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, are celebrated, that the highlights show them wearing pinstripes? Wouldn’t that be part of what the Yankees story is, and has always been? Conversely, if those players reach the Hall-of-Fame with a different team, Yankees fans, forever, will look back with regret and wonder what might have been…
“We could have had Bryce Harper…”
As the superstar players help the Yankees win, they will generate interest in the team, and also excitement, and press, and news. All of this helps the team. But it doesn’t just help them today. By creating excitement and by winning, the Yankees will create new new fans and new memories. There will new championships to celebrate and remember. When this happens the team benefits. They benefit now and long into the future – well, well, well into the future.
I don’t think the Yankees will be selling Troy Tulowitzki jerseys in 2035 or 2040 when Bryce Harper goes into the Hall-of-Fame. But if he’s a Yankee, Harper jerseys will still be selling – right along with the Babe, the Mick, Reggie, and Mariano.
That’s what happens when teams win. The superstars pay them back…forever.