When the best and brightest in baseball take the field tonight in the MLB All-Star Game, chances are you’re going to see some brands that you’re all too familiar with if you’re a sneakerhead and a few that you’re probably not used to if you’re a sneakerhead that only clicks on Nike and Jordan Brand stories on the site. See, baseball is a little bit different than the NBA or even the NFL. America’s pastime loves the swoosh (ask Evan Longoria right up until this season) and the Jumpman (word to Derek Jeter), but not like they do in basketball; as a matter of fact, baseball players rock everything from Reebok to Under Armour to Mizuno (ask Matt Cain) and New Balance. And especially New Balance.
Today, New Balance has 300 current major leaguers under some form of endorsement deal – a whopping 40%. That includes current All-Stars like Yadier Molina, Dustin Pedroia, Joe Nathan and arguably the best player in the world,
Yasiel Puig Miguel Cabrera. For those of us whose exposure to New Balance is limited to a Zach Galifianakis Saturday Night Live sketch or a Ronnie Fieg collaboration (or James Worthy if you’re a little bit older), that’s quite an impressive number. And that number is all the more amazing when you consider that New Balance did not endorse anybody in any sport prior to 2009.
It took Mark Cavanaugh, New Balance’s head of sports marketing, convincing New Balance to change up their strategy and get back into the endorsement game. Having worked previously at Nike, Cavanaugh knew the effect of having a star athlete rock a particular brand. While New Balance was already popular just in terms of brand awareness and their baseball cleats were a known commodity, it just wasn’t the “cool” that younger sneakerheads could relate to. It’s hard to say that endorsing players like Cabrera are solely responsible for New Balance’s success but the company did see their yearly revenue rise from $1.6 billion in 2008 to close to $3 billion in 2012. It probably didn’t hurt them, let’s just say that.
While most of the players on the New Balance roster get no more than free cleats and gear and the equivalent of an employee discount, getting the big names was more of a challenge. So to differentiate themselves from the pack, the company decided to add charity clauses to their contracts that obligates a player to give back to the community in some shape. Again, doesn’t seem like much, but when kids see that these players who are donating to their causes or visiting them wearing New Balance gear, that’s pretty influential.
While we normally don’t equate baseball cleats as being “heat,” it would be foolish to say that New Balance isn’t doing something right. By building their name up in different sports – they recently signed tennis’ Milos Raonic as part of their plan to grow their brand in the sport – on top of their already sterling reputation in the running world and certain circles of the sneakerhead community, you might be seeing New Balance in more places than you think sooner than later. Who knew Matt Bonner might be remembered as a visionary one day?
Here is a special look at some of the best baseball players in the game today rocking New Balance.
Special thanks to ESPN and the Boston Globe who contributed to this story. Images courtesy of Getty Images.