The History of Advertising in Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball
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When MLB picks their players for their nation-wide advertisements, they try to get those who are from the largest markets. In all likelihood, if a player in Kansas City is producing on the field exactly as much as a player from New York, the player from the Big Apple will have the better chance of gaining national recognition through the league’s advertisements (Vrooman, 1997, p. 600). There has been no debate from the owners in the league over this issue of unfair treatment because of the recent revenue sharing agreement. The old policy of MLB was to treat the revenue gained through such avenues as the MLB Store in New York City and as going towards whatever team’s memorabilia was purchased. This led to the teams with more popular players selling more merchandise and making money to purchase more players who were more likely to be popular. Since this was the case, a perpetual cycle was created which made parody in baseball really hard to achieve because “the relative player costs for large revenue clubs, of course, are still higher than those of small revenue clubs” (Vrooman, 1997, p. 598). This meant that it became increasingly more difficult for teams from small markets to be able to compete with those from larger markets due to the growing difference in the money available to spend on free agent talent. Some of the owners from the small market teams brought this issue to the league office, and one of their arguments centered on of the league’s advertising with players from larger markets (Vrooman, 1997, p. 599). It was because of their argument that the league now has a policy that divides the revenue gained through these sources evenly to all of the teams in the league. This process is called “revenue sharing, which allocates money from large market teams to small market teams in an effort to level the financial playing field” (Arcella, 1997, p. 2424).

MLB also uses the players from the larger markets in their advertisements because it has been shown that the league benefits from these teams being showcased. When teams from larger markets are in the playoffs, the ratings for those games are much higher than if small or mid-level teams are playing. While advertising a certain player cannot directly help that player, or that player’s team, play any better, it may make it more enticing for those players who are free agents and enjoy the limelight to lean towards playing in one of those larger markets (Arcella, 1997, p. 2444). While this has not been found to have any supreme effect on why players chose one team over another, it could become a deciding factor if players’ sponsors offer them more money to go to a larger market.

While the league has been shown to have a preference for using a single player in their advertisements, they have illustrated that they are not arbitrarily choosing the players who appear in their advertisements. They will not use a player with off-the-field issues just because they are producing on the field. They have also shown over time that it takes a lot for an entire team to be the focus of one of their advertising campaigns. This stems mainly from their idea that while a single player from a team can appeal to many geographical audiences, an entire team has the specific city tied to it too much to be able to appeal to outsiders. When the league does their blanket advertising, they attempt to appeal to as many people as possible in one advertisement (Huddle, 1943, p. 109). This is why advertisements will feature four or five players from different teams from large markets who usually have different ethnicities in order to entice as many people as possible to watch or attend their product or event. It should be noted that the advertisements put out by individual teams are an entirely different issue, because they are not trying to appeal to an entire nation. It is because of this that they can better use their entire team as a force to appeal to potential fans. While MLB has dedicated much time and effort to the advertising projects that they have undertaken during the league’s history, they always have to be aware of how their advertisements are going to affect the certain ethnic or economic groups that they are targeting.

Bill Jordan is a contributing writer to and can be reached by e-mail at

PS – There will be a bibliography for the sources after this post.

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