Performance Enhancing Marketing

May 18, 2009

Is it just me, or have fans basically shrugged their shoulders at Manny Ramirez being suspended 50 games for failing a drug test a couple weeks ago? The second I saw that Manny had been suspended on my Twitter feed I thought, “Man, this Mannywood thing just started to really take off — tough break for the Dodgers marketing team.”

After all, Manny brought a whole new ‘tude to the Dodgers last year and carried the team to within a few games of the World Series. The team sold 30,000 tickets the day after he was acquired in a trade from Boston, the highest 24-hour sales in franchise history. Nearly 1,000 of his jerseys and 5,000 of his T-shirts have been sold at Dodger Stadium this season, according to a New York Times article by John Branch.

He was re-signed in the offseason and became the centerpiece of the team’s marketing. Dreadlock wigs have been sold in honor of Manny’s trademark hair. An entire section in leftfield of Dodger Stadium was named “Mannywood.” After he re-signed, “Manny’s Back!” billboards popped up all over LA. The slugger who is famous for his aloof ways became the face of the franchise and fans embraced him.

So – I don’t feel all that silly for thinking that the Dodgers had a marketing fiasco on their hands when he was all of a sudden suspended and linked to performance enhancing drugs, yet the collective feeling about it has seemed to be merely “whatever.”

Said team President Dennis Mannion about the circumstances: “We’ll continue to sell Manny product, it will be a supply-and-demand situation.” He’s right; it would’ve been foolish to have taken drastic measures by abandoning Manny. If fans still love him just the same, then you go on with business as usual. I’m just a little surprised that fans seem to be so undisturbed. No season ticket holders canceled seats after the suspension was announced, no corporate sponsors walked away and only about a dozen of the 3,100 people with future seats in “Mannywood” asked for a refund, according to the Times article.

The team hasn’t discontinued selling his merchandise or removed him from advertising campaigns. Manny’s bobblehead promotion is still scheduled to happen in late June. At the first game post-suspension, fans were still sporting his jersey and “Man-ny!” chants were started in the stands; there were banners of support for Manny and even “Free Manny” T-shirts.

In my opinion, the Dodgers dodged a major marketing bullet. But how? Is it just because this particular situation involves a notoriously carefree player who happens to play for a team located in a notoriously carefree city? Would other fans react similarly if it were their superstar? A-Rod came out and admitted his steroid use and it seems as though Yankee fans aren’t calling for his crucifixion. Even if he had denied it, it seems as though the climate is different now in baseball and people would’ve gotten over it.

Guys like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire certainly received a different treatment from fans. Yes, each case merits its own argument, but by now everyone knows that there was a Steroid Era and that a ton of players used. It wasn’t just a few bad apples.

After this most recent suspension the feeling has become more apparent that fans are beginning to think enough is enough already. More players will be linked to steroids — Manny is not the last, but it’s so much easier to accept that the era took place and to get back to loving the game, not fretting about every accusation and failed drug test. We’ve dealt with them long enough. Manny’s suspension and the Dodgers’ non-marketing marketing may just prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.