Can brands bring more racial equity to America’s national pastime?
The Fall Classic. Is anything more magical? Growing up in Las Vegas, I was a restless kid obsessed with baseball. I loved the nuances of the game, manically collected cards (prized possession: autographed Tony Gwynn Topps rookie card), and playfully practiced calling balls & strikes.
Of course, I was learning from the best … Jack Buck, Joe Garagiola, Jerry Coleman and, of course, Vin Scully. They were all masters of their craft. Through my clock radio, their voices kept me company many afternoons and lulled me to sleep many evenings.
I felt part of the community. It was inclusive. I belonged. And thanks to Slam Diego, bat flips and Fernando Tatis Jr., that fandom flame was reignited this summer.
Baseball is special in that way. It can make you feel like a kid again. It’s a power that only baseball has. It feeds our nostalgia -- cotton candy in one hand, a glove in the other.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for many other impressionable kids and young adults.
Today published an article this summer lamenting the lack of Black children in baseball -- and suggested causes include family financial challenges and lack of sport advocacy.
Black players make up only 8% of the on-field players -- down from 60% in the 1990s -- and only a handful of Black leaders in management. Zero in ownership. The challenges may also be cultural. Ian Desmond, an 11-year MLB veteran and Colorado Rockies outfielder, opted out of the 2020 season, sharing the racism he has experienced in the league as a biracial athlete in a heartfelt Instagram post. And that was before the events leading up to the player boycott of MLB games in August.
The hiring of Michele Meyer-Shipp, a former KPMG executive, to oversee MLB’s human resources and establish its diversity and inclusion initiatives is a promising sign that MLB is taking the initiative to increase diversity within its ranks -- and more broadly, igniting baseball as America’s more equitable pastime. While Diversity & Inclusion is an internal function, when paired with Corporate Social Responsibility, it can create positive ripples externally.
An equal test will be achieving racial equity among MLB’s stars on the field. That effort starts by getting young Black athletes on the Little League fields across the country, and brands have an important role to play in this movement.
The challenge may be aided by a shift happening at the brand (sponsorship) level relative to CSR. No longer can brands get by with a news release and a donation to their favorite charity. Sixty-four percent of US adults say a company's primary purpose should be "making the world a better place,” and of course, no one likes woke washing.
Our purpose as our product hasn’t been the norm, but it is a big opportunity for brands.
Addressing the financial challenges, T-Mobile’s partnership with MLB and the “Little League Call Up Grant Program” is a good start and an example of what is possible, when marketing, community and social responsibility come together. The program focused on the problem laid out in the Today article -- aiding the financial burden that prohibits many families from participating in baseball, in this case by covering the costs of registration fees associated with their local Little League. To date, they’ve raised nearly $1 million and they’ve amped things up by donating an extra $5,000 for each home run hit in the postseason. Chevy's work in youth baseball also has been notable.
Still, it needs to go further. Can Camping World underwrite travel costs for kids? Or Bank of America gear and uniforms? This is a massive initiative. Why should T-Mobile and MLB go it alone?
Regarding advocacy programs, who can be the cultural influences both on the field and off to engage Black youth in our communities. Brands spend millions of dollars annually on influencers to promote their own brands. Is there a social responsibility for brands to leverage influencers to play a role that is not so self-serving? Can Google Cloud partner with MLB to build an advocacy platform? This could further immediate DE&I initiatives and translate to the field with a new age of energized leaders to bring their perspectives and stories on why baseball is as critical to our communities as other sports.
To thrive, MLB needs DE&I, CSR and brand partners coming together to drive society forward.
As America’s national pastime, is the country a better place if baseball is more inclusive?
Baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s meditation. It’s patience. It’s listening before talking. Similar to what we need to be doing relative to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Americans and truly amplifying our efforts to build these communities.
Chad Issaq is EVP, Business Development and Partnerships and a 19-year veteran of Superfly. During his tenure, Chad has been a key stakeholder in Superfly created events, the founding of its creative agency and currently drives business development and strategic partnerships across the company. Through his leadership, Superfly has developed top tier experiences, events, and campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 companies.