Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but marketing the sport does have some drawbacks, says Jacqueline Parkes, vice president of advertising and marketing for Major League Baseball.
“When I tell people what I do, they light up,” the 39 year old said. “The challenge I have is going any place — whether it’s church or a cocktail party — and having people not let my career dominate the conversation.”
Fortunately, she’s prepared to handle the pressure.
“I love talking baseball, so it’s great by me.”
At the heart of Parkes’s job is leveraging opportunities and coordinating efforts with the league’s 30 clubs in hopes of strengthening the brand and getting some new fans. Handling those efforts is a lot different from marketing dishwasher detergent.
“Major League baseball is unique because our product is a real, living, breathing thing that changes every moment of every day,” she said. “We can’t control it like a Product & Gamble or a Johnson & Johnson.”
But having that kind of fluid product is also what can make for the best opportunities. As Ken Griffey, Jr., neared the 500-home run mark in the 2004 season, Parkes and her team saw a chance to do something special: get the 14 living players who reached that staggering number together at the home run derby during All Star Weekend in Houston. After a mere month and a half of preparation, the result was the 500 Home Run Club and a 38 percent ratings increase for ESPN, which televised the event.
“I have to tell you that being there and saying, ‘Mr. [Willie] Mays, please move forward. Please move forward,’ was like being on the field of dreams,” she recalled. “Even before the ratings came in, you knew it was something special.”
Efforts by Parkes and her marketing staff of three have also focused on getting each team on the same page with baseball’s messages. Last year, they put together “Club Kits,” complete with logoed pitching rubbers, bases, field stencils and on-deck circles for special occasions like opening day, Mother’s Day and the Fourth of July. The materials also advertise causes MLB supports.
“We’re able to build brand equity in the fact that from Arizona to Shea Stadium [New York], all the teams are saying the same thing and now the fan base is aware that MLB has teamed up to fight breast cancer,” she said.
Parkes is well aware of the advantageous position of strengthening a brand as opposed to having to build one from scratch.
“There’s no illusion in my head that what I do is anything more than accentuating the positives,” she said. “But it’s a dream job whenever you love the product you’re working for.”