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All-Star perks: Renown, respect, revenue
At this time last year, each Jose Bautista home run was met with a shrug, headshake or outright skepticism. Who was this guy? Not long before, he had been a reserve infielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there he was, leading the majors with 24 homers at the All-Star break.
The irony, of course, is that Bautista was doing this slugging for the Toronto Blue Jays, the lone big-league franchise based outside the United States. The Jays weren’t serious contenders to win the American League East. They were nowhere to be found on national television broadcasts in the U.S. To many fans, Bautista remained a mystery.
Then came July 13, 2010, and the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium. When the best players in the world gathered for their annual midsummer convention, Bautista was among them. And for all the flaws and snubs associated with the selection process, an essential truth remains: If you’re an All-Star, you’re probably pretty good.
From a performance standpoint, Bautista’s major-league-leading 54 homers last year were more important than his single at-bat in the Midsummer Classic. But in the larger context of his career — his income, his popularity, his reputation — Bautista’s All-Star selection enhanced his marketability and validated his presence among the game’s elite.
The All-Star cachet certainly didn’t hurt when it came time for Bautista’s representatives to negotiate his five-year, $65 million contract extension with the Blue Jays.
“(Being an All-Star) makes a big difference for a player, especially the first time around,” said Alex Radetsky, the marketing agent for Bautista. “With Jose, now people are putting him in the conversation as being one of the best players in baseball. We’ve definitely seen an increase in the (endorsement) phone calls coming in since this time last year.”
Days before his second All-Star appearance, Bautista’s visibility is at an all-time high. He received a record 7,454,753 votes in the fan balloting — almost 1.4 million ahead of Ken Griffey Jr.’s previous mark, set in 1994. Bautista is again leading the majors in first-half home runs; with 29, he’s even ahead of last year’s pace. His participation in the Home Run Derby will offer fans (and potential business partners) another opportunity to see him on the big stage.
Radetsky said Bautista is garnering interest from Canadian companies that more frequently court hockey players for public appearances. In addition to Bautista’s equipment deals with New Balance, Wilson and Franklin, Radetsky said he’s close to signing nationwide (Canadian) deals with beverage and memorabilia companies.
“It’s really snowballed for him,” Radetsky said.
While Bautista’s ascent has been an extraordinary case, it’s common for inaugural All-Star appearances to act as springboards to more increases in popularity and/or earning potential. Brett Bick, one of the agents for Boston infielder Kevin Youkilis, believes Youkilis’ first-ever All-Star appearance in 2008 helped to increase the asking price on his multiyear extension.
With 25 first-time All-Stars and counting, more than one-third of the players in Phoenix next week are in a similar position.
Florida-based agent BB Abbott, for example, has three clients on the NL All-Star team: Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Jonny Venters. This is Jones’ seventh selection, McCann’s sixth, and Venters’ first. “With Venters, it will have an impact, because it is his first appearance, and he is being recognized as one of the best relievers in baseball,” Abbott said. “With someone like Brian McCann or Chipper, it will simply add onto a long list of achievements.”
Dave Pepe, the agent for Twins reliever Joe Nathan, still remembers the effect of Nathan’s first All-Star appearance in 2004. Nathan was in his first season as a closer, after arriving from San Francisco in a trade, and earned his way onto the team with an impressive first half.
“The fact that Joe made that All-Star team and then three others really helped me in my discussions with the club when it came to extending Joe’s contract,” Pepe said this week. “There was always the fact that Joe was recognized as an All-Star in the backdrop. That clearly made my discussions with the club easier. To this day, I always say, ‘Joe Nathan, four-time All-Star,’ when referring to Joe in discussions.”
All-Star appearances can have a direct effect on a player’s earnings in several ways.
First, many veterans have contract clauses that obligate teams to pay a sum (usually between $25,000 and $100,000) each time they make an All-Star team. Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum, for example, will receive $100,000 bonuses this year. The Phillies and Cardinals, meanwhile, must pay Roy Halladay and Matt Holliday $50,000 apiece.
All-Star appearances can also trigger bonuses in a player’s endorsement and equipment contracts, although those payouts are generally under $10,000 apiece, one marketing executive said.
And while less important than the sheer statistics, All-Star selections also frequently influence salary arbitration proceedings. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement allows agents to submit “recognized annual player awards” as evidence in hearings. Agents frequently cite All-Star selections among those awards.
“An All-Star election is evidence of public appeal and overall performance,” one player agent said. “(It) can be used to increase a player’s value, especially when compared to another player without an All-Star appearance.”
Of course, as Andrew McCutchen would tell you, not every deserving All-Star is an actual All-Star. Some agents have expressed frustration with the selection process for that reason. In an arbitration hearing, it’s much more compelling to say, “My client is an All-Star,” than, “My client would have been an All-Star, if the voters weren’t so stupid.”
In general, though, the selection process works, and the game’s brightest stars share the same field for one night in July. Particularly with the NBA and NFL locked out, the stage is set for a marketing bonanza. Now someone needs to use it.
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