By Barry Janoff
October 24, 2012: When Miguel Cabrera this season claimed the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and Marco Scutaro was named MVP of the 2012 NLCS, they both had a lot of support: Teammates, family, friends, fans and their batting gloves.
Cabrera and Scutaro are connected to 30 years of Major League Baseball history via their Franklin batting gloves, which traces its status as the official batting glove of MLB back to meetings in the early 1980s between Franklin Sports executives and then Philadelphia Phillies all-star third baseman Mike Schmidt.
The trend for MLB players to wear batting gloves has its roots in the 1950s, when some players wore golf gloves during spring training, most notably Ted Williams and Bobby ("Shot Heard Round the World") Thompson. Ken Harrelson is generally acknowledged as the first MLB player to wear golf gloves during a regular season game when he donned them for plate appearances in the 1960s.
In 1983, Franklin Sports met with Schmidt and together they designed not only what would become the standard of batting gloves still in use today, but a branding strategy that including putting the Franklin name on the back of the glove, which enabled the logo to clearly be seen on TV when a player was at-bat. That year, Schmidt was in the All-Star Game and he brought along several pairs of his batting gloves so that he could hand them out to other players. The All-Star Game roster that year included Ozzie Smith, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Rod Carew, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice.
Franklin became the official batting glove of MLB in the late 1980s and still holds that designation. Although a number of other companies now make batting gloves, including Nike, Under Armour, adidas, Rawlings and Louisville Slugger, Franklin has more than 150 MLB players on its roster, such as Cabrera, Scutaro, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Joey Votto.
In addition to MLB, Franklin has licensing deals that include the NFL, NHL, MLS, Disney, Marvel and Nickelodeon. Throughout its history, the company has had strong alliances with such athletes as Joe Namath, Herschel Walker, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, Doug Flutie, Don Mattingly, Cal Ripkien Jr., Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Joe Carter, Kirby Puckett and Barry Bonds.
In December, Franklin will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its batting gloves with the launch of a national multi-media campaign. It will feature many of its baseball batting glove endorsers, former player and current Fox and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds as lead spokesman and a promotion through which consumers can attend hitting clinics that will be held in every MLB stadium. The effort will run through the 2013 season.
As Cabrera and Scutaro face off in the World Series for the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants, respectively, NYSportsJournalism spoke with Larry Franklin, who has been president of Franklin Sports since 1986, and his son, Adam, who is the company's director of e-commerce, about sports marketing, the pros and cons of athletes as endorsers and whether or not Cabrera's Triple Crown achievement has received its just rewards.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How important has the alliance with Cabrera been for Franklin, and vice versa?
Larry Franklin: It's been a great relationship. This was our second season with Cabrera. He didn't like the batting gloves he was wearing, so he had his agent work out a deal with us prior to the 2011 season. We make a special glove for him. In two seasons with Franklin his statistics have been terrific (.337 BA, 74 HRs, 244 RBI). John Ballas, Franklin’s head of player relations and Cabrera’s day-to-day contact, was key to the deal.
NYSJ: Will we see marketing with Cabrera focusing on the Triple Crown?
Adam Franklin: He is one of our marquee players, so he has been featured in a lot of our traditional and social media marketing. We had a Triple Crown watch on Facebook and Twitter. And we have been doing a lot of outreach through our outlets. We also put up for auction Franklin batting gloves that he autographed, with proceeds going to the Miguel Cabrera Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club of America. (The auction runs through 2 PM EDT on Oct. 25; details here). We also are providing the opportunity for someone to create their own limited-edition batting glove.
NYSJ: Cabrera has had some well-publicized personal problems, including spending time in rehab regarding alcohol. Has this kept fans and marketers from embracing his accomplishment?
AF: When he won the Triple Crown he got tweets from all over: Justin Verlander, John Cena, Mike Trout, Barry Sanders, LeBron James, Ozzie Guillen, He received attention on ESPN, his Triple Crown has been getting attention on national TV during the Tigers post-season and he had stories written about him nationwide. So his achievement has been recognized. If you are referring to marketing opportunities, some companies may not have embraced him because he has had his off-field mishaps. But we are proud to work with him and to support his charity in any way that we can.
LF: Perhaps because it hasn't happened in so long, it's one of those under-the-radar achievements. Also, the Tigers sort of snuck up on the division and didn't really take over until the last two weeks of the season, so there wasn't as much national exposure as there could have been. Detroit is a big market, but it's not on the level where say a Derek Jeter with the New York Yankees or David Ortiz with the Boston Red Sox, Albert Pujols or Mike Trout with the Los Angeles Angeles would have received exposure if it became evident that they could win the Triple Crown. It's a phenomenal achievement and he certainly was short-changed. More should be made of it, and I think it probably will get more publicity if the Tigers win and also if he is named the AL MVP.
AF: Trout had a great year, especially for a rookie, but how can you not give the MVP to someone who not only won the Triple Crown but lead his team to the [World Series]?
"The day he clinched the Triple Crown, there was a photo of Miguel pumping his fist wearing his Franklin gloves [showing] the logo. That was a Wow! moment for us."
NYSJ: Did Franklin Sports have a Wow! moment this past season as far as seeing your product and logo on national TV during a key highlight?
AF: I'd say we had one of those moments almost every night on ESPN's SportsCenter, especially when they began to focus on Cabrera. The day after he won the Triple Crown, we relaunched a campaign, 'We Held the Bat,' which we used to run on TV and in print. We used that platform to congratulate him. It said, in effect, Miguel won the Triple Crown but we held the bat.
LF: The day that he clinched the Triple Crown, there was a shot of Miguel pumping his fist, which I saw on ESPN and I know ran elsewhere across the country, and he was wearing his Franklin gloves, with the logo very prominent. That was a pretty good Wow! moment for us.
NYSJ: What marketing elements can we expect to see for the 30th anniversary of the Franklin batting glove?
LF: We are planning to promote it starting in December and going into next year with a national campaign. We plan to have all of our [batting glove] athletes involved. We would like to have Mike Schmidt be part of it. Harold Reynolds will be the spokesman. We will have some of our athletes conduct hitting clinics in each of the MLB ballparks and we will roll out a national contest later this year to get fans involved.
NYSJ: Have you changed the way in which you work with athletes in marketing?
LF: We've worked with a lot of athletes over the years. It has changed, and the main reason is the amount of money athletes are making contractually. The problem is the overwhelming demands on players' time and the fact that there are so many more easy ways for players to make money off the field. So many more different endorsement deals and opportunities, such as getting paid for autographs, that never used to exist. So we have backed away from having our marketing focus on specific athletes and moved more toward marketing around the leagues. We have licensing deals with the NFL, MLB, MLS, a hundred colleges, we are the official street hockey partner of the NHL, and we have found that to be a more effective away of marketing.
NYSJ: Do athlete endorsements impact consumers?
LF: In the old days, the superstar athletes we had could be sold in all 50 states. Now, because of cable and the proliferation of TV channels, sports fans are much more focused on their local markets. They are focused more on their local heroes. In the NFL, just with quarterbacks, for example, Tom Brady is a national figure, but he isn't going to sell as well outside of Boston. There's Peyton Manning in Denver. There's Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. People are more focused and more tied to their local teams. The dynamic has changed. There are some superstars who transcend that, but very few. Certainly not nearly as many as there used to be. And the guys who do transcend that are so expensive to deal with because of the contracts and money they can command. So the way we compete is to focus on the fact that we have the best products.
NYSJ: Speaking of great quarterbacks, how did Franklin Sports' alliance with Joe Namath impact the world of sports marketing?
LF: Back in the 1960s, we were the first company, as far as we can tell, to sign an athlete for a multi-product endorsement. Before that, for example, Wilson would have a Jack Kramer tennis racket, or there were Sam Snead golf clubs or a Ted Williams baseball glove. We signed Joe Namath to endorse a complete line of 20 different products, from kids' uniforms to footballs to shoulder pads, kicking tees, mouth pieces, anything that was applicable to football. And we were able to sell that nationally because at that time Namath transcended his sport.
NYSJ: Why did Franklin make that decision?
LF: Our theory was that we were a small and growing company but that Franklin was not a household name. Joe Namath was. Most of our products, believe it or not, are purchased by women, for their kids or husband. So we figured at that time that women were very likely to know who Joe Namath was. That was a successful strategy and one that we embraced for about 20 years.
NYSJ: How important has social media become to sports marketing?
AF: Franklin Sports connects with fans and athletes through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. A lot of our athletes are very active on Twitter. We work with them and encourage them to chat with fans. For us, it has been great to have that direct interaction between athletes and fans. For our 30th anniversary campaign launching in December we plan to have all of our athletes promote it on Twitter as part of a larger national campaign.
NYSJ: You talked about Schmidt and Namath and the impact they have had on Franklin. Anyone else who especially stands out for you?
LF: We've had what I would call a staple of superstars — Namath, Marino, Bo Jackson, David Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, hundreds of athletes in many different sports. The only athlete with whom we still maintain an on-going relationship from that original group is Herschel Walker. He is one of the most incredible people you would want to meet. And it's not just about what he has done on the football field. He has had an incredible life. He is a class guy. He runs a successful business. Because he represents us I get to travel with him, and it's like being with a rock star when you see the reception he gets. Everyone wants to talk to him.
NYSJ: How will you build on the 30th anniversary campaign and alliances with such players as Cabrera?
LF: We were started in 1946 by my father Irving (who passed away last year at the age of 93) and his brother Sydney in Brockton, Mass. Brockton is known as 'The City of Champions" because it has been home to boxers Rocky Marciano and 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler. So we really feel that championship energy. You will see us continue to grow and be innovative.
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