The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Brand
My interest in the Yankees dates 50 years from the first game I attended at Yankee Stadium in 1960 with my dad. We sat in the upper deck behind home plate and I was in awe of the stadium and how green the grass was. I have a signed baseball from the 1960 Yankees in my office today—Mantle, Maris, Berra, Turley, Ford, Boyer, Skowron, every player. In 1960 I also learned the pain a sports fan feels when Bill Mazeroski hit a homer in the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series to win it for the Pirates (by the way a series so lopsided in favor of the Yankees it was the only time they gave the MVP to a player from the losing team—Bobby Richardson).
I know I’ve transferred my Yankees allegiance to my daughter, Carolyn, whose knowledge and passion rivals mine. PS Note to parents: If you want your child to become a fan of your team take them to a game when they are young and arrange for their name to be put on the scoreboard as Carolyn’s was, “Yankees Welcome Carolyn Strum”—four words that changed her life.
What I’ve come to appreciate as a marketer however is what the Yankees brand has stood for throughout most of baseball history beginning with the ‘20s when Babe Ruth joined the team and the first Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built, opened. Every element reinforces the Yankee brand–The NY logo, pinstripes, Monument Park, retired numbers, and most importantly the 27 World Championships, the most for any professional sports franchise.
The Steinbrenner family for all their faults over the years, and there have been many, (check out blog post: The day the Boss kicked me out of his office ) are committed to success. The Yankees management and the Steinbrenner family are brilliant marketers and have restored luster to the tarnished Yankees brand that Steinbrenner acquired from CBS in 1972. This acquisition for $10 Million had followed the bleakest, least successful period of Yankee history from 1965-1972. Little attendance, no marquis players, no buzz, and losing records marked this era. It appeared the Yankee brand had collapsed, and the Yankees had become ordinary. George Steinbrenner, through his maniacal desire to win, helped the Yankees retain the glory they lost in the CBS era. And while there have been some droughts in the Steinbrenner era as well, the commitment to winning every year remains. As a fan you, gotta love it when the goal of every season is to win the World Series, and by definition any season, not matter how successful, that falls short of a Championship is a disappointment. That’s why I am a partial season ticket holder and make the 200 mile round trip trek to the Stadium roughly 15 times annually.
But the Yankees are not merely a baseball success. They are a marketing success in every aspect–their uniforms, Yankee Stadium, YES Network, tradition, the stadium’s facade, these are all elements of the Brand to be protected. Brian Cashman is more than their General Manager of the team, he is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the world’s most recognized brand. He’s worked his way up from an intern and I suspect has endured more business pain than anyone can imagine. But as I write this article, he is the GM of the the greatest professional sports franchise of all time, a team never satisfied to rest on past accomplishments.
I am proud to be a zealous fan and respect the organization for the success it has achieved in the past and success to come in the future. I hope I have the opportunity yet again to attend the final game of the World Series in the Bronx as the Yankees again become World Champions once again. Every spring there is one goal in Yankee Universe—the World Championship.
Epilog: George was brilliant in death as in life. His passing in the year of 2010, the only one without an estate tax, helped his family avoid hundreds of millions of estate taxes and ensured the continuation of Steinbrenner ownership. Well played, Boss.
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