Brian Wilson, the bearded, All-Star closer for the San Francisco Giants’ pitching prowess is to be admired. In 2010 (his last full season) he lead the league in saves, finished 7th in Cy Young Award voting, and 13th in the MVP race. He also lead his team to a World Series victory.
In 2011 his season was cut short due to an elbow injury. 2012 seemed promising as he participated in Spring Training, but after only two games he was forced to have Tommy John surgery.
While fans mourned the loss of Wilson, another bearded reliever took the lead- Sergio Romo. While the Giants maintained a quasi-closer by committee role at first, Romo eventually seemed to best Casilla and the other contenders for the position. Now, with Romo at the back of the bullpen, and Wilson arbitration eligible, the question becomes where will Wilson end up.
To my mind, the answer is simple. The Giants should keep Wilson, allow him to recover, and keep him in the bullpen. Wilson’s leadership qualities and quirkiness have helped define the 2010 and 2012 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants.
But, more important than his pitching statistics or his leadership ability, is Brian Wilson’s ability to market himself, and his franchise.
Wilson is outlandish, his off the field antics often overwhelm his on field performance, and yet it is somehow not distracting from the Giants’ organization. Over the past few years Wilson has pulled the following stunts- The Machine on Chris Rose’s The Cheap Seats, the speedo tuxedo at the 2011 ESPYs, the Sasquatch at the 2012 ESPYS, driving around San Francisco on a motorized scooter, Uncaged with Sasquatch, his Nike shoes, and countless others. Wilson has also stared in a number of commercials- Taco Bell, MLB2K11, NBA2K12, SportsCenter, and that isn’t all of them. Wilson also does advertising for Nike. In short, wherever Wilson is, San Francisco fans, and MLB fans alike are watching- he is a marketing machine.
Why, then, would you propose sending Wilson to the ONE PLACE in the league where these antics will be frowned upon and entirely shut down- the Yankees? Yes, the Yakees who made Johnny Damon shave his beard. The Yankees have a storied history of not allowing facial hair on the team. And their manager, Joe Girardi doesn’t like it either.
Can you really trade a player affectionately nicknamed, The Beard, to a team that doesn’t allow beards? Isn’t this the opposite of every basic marketing principle? Wilson, and his antics, are incongruent with the Yankees brand- so don’t try to mesh the two.
So Giants, if you do decide to trade Wilson, please do yourself a favor and market him for what he is, and excellent closer, coming back from Tommy John surgery who is a risk, but focus on the additional upside of his marketing value. Wilson will fill seats- if he is playing or not.
There are 28 clubs outside of the Giants and the Yankees. So send him somewhere we can keep the beard.
Many have discussed the marketability of
Peyton Manning. BusinessWeek’s Joel Stonington describes power in sport as “the
combination of athletic achievement plus the ability to connect with an
audience on a deeper, more personal level that separates mere jocks from the
stars” (Stonington, Power 100 2011). In addition to being an elite level
quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, a perennial record setter, and a
SuperBowl winner he is also ranked number one on BusinessWeek’s 2011 Power 100
in large part because of his ability to market himself, as well as many other
businesses. As most any sports fan (and even many non-sports fans) can tell
you, Peyton Manning is in the business of appealing to fans both on an off the
field as he has starred in commercials ranging from Sprint to Mastercard to
Reebok. But, there seems to be another face, or beard, on the sports marketing
horizon- Brian Wilson.
Could Peyton’s stance as America’s
Sweetheart, and the most powerful man in sport (at the very least the most
likeable), be in jeopardy to a closer from the Bay Area? Possibly.
Labor negotiations in the NFL have left
fans frazzled, and if there is one thing the owners and players seem to have
missed in their sports history lessons, it is that fans are not quick to forget
labor disputes. Baseball players, for example, have gone on strike a total of
eight times. World War II couldn’t
stop the game because of Roosevelt’s Green Light Letter, encouraging
commissioner Kenesaw Landis to
keep the game going, but greed certainly could. The most egregious of the
strikes came at the end of the 1994 season – the only year in Major League
Baseball history where no World Series was played.
In 1993, the year before the strike,
Major League Baseball set an attendance record of 70,257,938 fans, with an
average of 30,984 fans per game (http://bss.sfsu.edu/tygiel/hist490/mlbattendance.htm).
In the strike shortened 1994 season only 50,010,016 total fans attended games,
with 31,256 fans per game. With more fans attending games in 1994 the league
stood to break the previous year’s record. A shortened season in 1995 yielded
more fans than the previous year, but lower per game attendance (50,469,236
total fans, 25,022 fans per game). The 1996 and 1997 seasons showed
improvements of about 1,500 fans per game per year (26,510/27,877 respectively), but
neither was on par with the pre-strike rates.
It was not until the Home Run race of
1998 that fan attendance reached (and slightly exceeded) the pre-strike totals
(even then attendance per game was down). The data indicates that it took three seasons for fans to come back to
Major League Baseball – in other words, for baseball to recover from the
strike. Admittedly, there are likely other factors for fan’s demotivation to
attend baseball events, but the strike
is the most obvious correlation.
Three years, and a home run
record-setting season is a lot to ask for the public to fall back in love
with its national pastime. While
fans were not attending baseball games, they were spending their discretionary
income elsewhere – meaning there was an opening for other sports to gain
prominence while baseball was not viewed as favorably.
With the impending football lockout, and
NFL attendance dropping for the third straight year in 2010 (to its lowest
level since 1998, the year baseball saw its upswing), it seems just the time
for baseball to take advantage of what was once rightfully theirs – America’s
adoration. Despite football fans‘
disinclination for attending live events in recent years, ESPN noted that
17,007,172 total fans attended in 2010. According to USA Today the average
ticket cost at an NFL game is $75.00 per seat, totaling over 1.2 billion
dollars in discretionary fan income in ticket sales alone.
With that much discretionary income, and
a history of fan dissatisfaction after a strike season, baseball was ready to make its move- insert
Manning is the poster child for on and
off-field performance, as discussed above, but he is also lead plaintiff in a
lawsuit that embodies the greed of the lockout. As much as Manning has enamored
fans in the past, many are wondering why he and the rest of the league can’t
come to terms with the owners when they are making so much money every year
(Manning’s 2010 income was estimated by BusinessWeek at 30 million dollars).
The majority of Americans cannot fathom making 30 million dollars in their
lifetime, let alone in one year. Manning’s on the field prowess and off the
field humor cannot mask his- and the rest of the league’s- perceived greed.
Brian Wilson made his debut in 2006 with
the Giants and has been with the club for his entire career- much like Manning
has been with the Colts. He is a two-time All Star selection (2008 & 2010)
and led the league in saves last
season with 48 while pitching in 70 games. In addition to having impressive
individual statistics with a career 290 strike outs and 139 career saves (as of
April 24, 2011), he helped the Giants win their first World Series since 1954
by allowing no earned runs in 11.2 postseason innings.
However, on the field reliability is not the only thing that what wins over American sports fans. Wilson is
incredible in his ability to make
fans laugh through his commercials, which include video games (MLB 2k11), SportsCenter
(again like Manning), and ESPN Opening Day. Moreover, there doesn’t appear to
be an end in sight, eliciting spoof websites such as the sportspickle.com to
write an article entitled “Brian Wilson’s Beard Apparently MLB’s Entire 2011
Marketing Campaign”. In addition
to commercial’s Wilson is incredibly personable, intelligent, and eloquent in
his interviews on film and in text. And the man has a heart of gold as evidenced
by a YouTube clip of Wilson and fellow teammate Cody Ross, staring internet
sensation Keenan Cahill, all lip syncing to Taio Cruz’ popular “Dynamite” to
raise money for charity.
If Wilson’s ability to market himself, or
have someone else extremely intelligent do it for him, hasn’t been evident to
this point, just look at his beard. The 2010 “fear the beard” campaign was
wildly successful, as Wilson’s beard “Weez” took center stage during the
playoffs. The beard has inspired clever sayings, cakes, fan beards, and a wide
array of t-shirts from online retailers and Nike.
Fans are so awe struck by Wilson (and
Weez’) presence they have started an online campaign for Wilson to host
Saturday Night Live. As of April 20, 2011 the page has 45,882 likes. Similarly,
Manning hosted Saturday Night Live on his 31st birthday just after his SuperBowl win in 2007.
While Wilson is not as clean cut as
Manning (in addition to The Beard there are also tattoos) that doesn’t seem
particularly relevant to fans. The American public has shown that Brian Wilson
can be their new hero, and the NFL lockout seems to be affording him the
perfect opportunity to embrace that role. It is likely that a man entirely left
off BusinessWeek’s 2011 Power Rankings could top the 2012 edition.
Fear the Beard, Peyton.