MLB - The Money Trail

MLB: New York Ballplayers And The Slippery Slope Of Endorsements

For MLB players who enjoy the limelight, the Big Apple is the place to be. And for the right player at the right time, income from endorsements and speaking engagements can easily supersede their baseball contracts. Here’s how the magic works…or doesn’t.

Aaron Judge will play the 2018 MLB season for the New York Yankees at a contracted salary of $622,300. According to Spotrac, Judge will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 season, and he will not become a free agent until 2023.

To many fans of MLB and the Yankees, most would say the Yankees are committing highway robbery, but all they are doing is playing within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement reached between the player and owners.

If you are big Aaron Judge fan, you should not shed any tears over this because Judge has earned himself outside income that will unofficially put him in the stratosphere of the top MLB players in earnings. According to Sports Illustrated, Judge planned the whole process himself:

During the season, Judge instructed his agent Page Odle to wait for the end of the season to collect endorsements. The 6-foot-7 star previously had deals with Rawlings and Under Armour, as well as Fanatics. Last week, Judge was announced as the cover athlete for the popular video game “MLB The Show ’18.”Nihal Kalur, Sports Illustrated

Two days ago, Judge also hooked on with Adidas in a multi-year deal, and before that Pepsi took on the 25-year-old rock star. Terms of all these deals are rarely announced, but $1 million per year is often cited as a guideline when adding up the total.

It doesn’t always work out for MLB superstars, even if they are fortunate to play in the most significant market in baseball. Yeonis Cespedes of the New York Mets, for instance, is currently a client of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, but according to Forbes, has only been able to muster up $600,000 in endorsements to pad the $23 million he will earn from the Mets this season.

This gets into a tricky area when the question is asked – why Judge and not Cespedes? The answer is obvious though, as these large branded companies do not give money away. They look solely at marketability or, how much money can this player generate for our product? Cespedes, with his rocky road of passing through four MLB teams in his career to date, with numerous “incidents” along the way becomes a non-starter, While squeaky clean Judge monopolizes the New York market.

In researching this piece, I could not find an endorsement package for Yankees All-Star catcher, Gary Sanchez. I suspect this has a lot to do with Sanchez not having mastered English, still using interpreters provided by the Yankees when interfacing with media.

Conversely, Didi Gregorius, who speaks four languages fluently, has been able to utilize social media to augment his status and exposure in the marketplace.:

Gregorius inked deals this season with Wix.com, Delta, Banana Republic, Stance and Planters, in addition to his endemic sponsors Nike, Mizuno and Louisville Slugger. The new pacts should push his estimated annual off-field income north of $500,000, on top of his $5.1 million salary from the Yankees.Forbes.com

Of interest, I found little or no endorsements for New York Mets stars like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, or rising star Michael Conforto. Ditto Matt Harvey, who was once the darling of NYC and Mets fans. Today, the best Harvey can do is make a few bucks signing autographs:

At a baseball card and autograph show held at Hofstra University early last month, more than a 100 avid Mets fans and collectors gladly paid $150 to have Matt Harvey sign his name. Inscriptions such as Harvey’s nickname, The Dark Knight, or “To Nancy,” cost an extra $39.00.David Seideman, Forbes

According to Sports Business Daily, Syndergaard did ink a modest deal in June 2017 with Citi that features a TV ad I have yet to see:

Mets P Noah Syndergaard has signed on to endorse Citi, supplementing the financial service company’s existing partnership with the club and Citi Field. He stars in an ad that debuted Thursday for Citi’s Double Cash rewards card mocking the traditions of typical postgame press conferences. Syndergaard joins CF Curtis Granderson among Mets players individually working with Citi. He also will be featured in other Citi campaigns during the year and participate in various activities on behalf of the financial services company.(Eric Fisher, Staff Writer)

Why the slight on the Mets is lost to me, and all I can think is that the Met’s Public Relations Department is not as energetic as the Yankees in marketing their players.

Of interest too, I found that retiring from baseball as a player in New York City can be lucrative as well. Endorsements not so much, but when you look at the speaking engagements fees charged by former Yankees (again), a very comfortable lifestyle can be maintained as the years go on.

If you are thinking of inviting, for instance, Joe Torre or Andy Pettitte as a guest speaker for your organization’s annual convention, be prepared, according to Athletic Speakers to open the checkbook up to the tune of $50,000 – $100,000 per event.

While the endorsement market is not restricted to New York City, it’s easier to facilitate. MLB players such as David Ortiz (Ex of the Boston Red Sox) and Felix Hernandez (starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners) have both broken through nicely with endorsements that will add to their income for years to come.

Sports Management Degree Guide places Ortiz, in particular, “in ads and endorsing products from shoe manufacturer New Balance, Dunkin’ Donuts and Fanatics. Ortiz earns around $5 million a year for his endorsements and has some deals in place that will continue after he retires.”

Endorsements are not for everyone, though. MLB players who take them give up something in return, and it always equates to time spent in earning the monies being paid. If Pepsi, for instance, enlists Aaron Judge to appear at their annual convention in Las Vegas next November, and he is committed to doing so.

Others, like Alex Rodriguez, who made a half billion dollars in his baseball contracts over the years are likely to scoff at the idea of being “tied down” for (comparatively) so little in return. Though, in his case when his ties to steroid use are considered, he made a wise decision in not seeking extra income in endorsements.

Still, the benefit of playing major league baseball in New York City presents at least the opportunity for a player who wants to augment his income, as opposed to one laboring in Kansas City or San Diego, to do so.

The player who commands our attention, though, will be Aaron Judge over the next several years. For now, he is making all the right moves in amassing as much as he can while his salary from the Yankees is a mere pittance of what he is worth.

What happens, though, when and if Judge commands a contract in the future in proportion to his teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, who has no apparent need to pad an already inflated yearly income, remains to be seen.

But let the buyer beware, too. Because I wonder how Derek Jeter feels today, given the tally of all the endorsement agreements he signed up for over the years, versus the responsibilities he has now as the Chief Operating Officer of the Miami Marlins when Company X calls asking him to do this or that as part of his contract with them.

A lucrative, though very slippery slope it can be.

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