Roberto Clemente Award A Golden Branding Opportunity

By Joe Favorito

There are few awards that speak to the larger audience sports business is trying to reach today – those with a passion for cause, the engagement with the growing Latinos and a tie to elite athletes – than the Roberto Clemente Award.

Yet this year, quietly, the award will go without a sponsor for the first time in several years. Initially, John Hancock Financial Services sponsored the award and supplemented the prize offering to the winners, and in recent years Chevrolet has been the sponsor of the program. This year, no announcement has been made, so the award winner will go without a brand partner.

“It is probably an issue of brands looking for a younger demo to engage with and the brands who have spent time around baseball may feel that that demo may not know who Roberto Clemente is,” said Tony Ponturo, who led Anheuser Busch’s Sports Media business for over 35 years and now works as a senior consultant in the sports media industry, as well as being a career advisor at Columbia University. “This is a prestigious award that speaks to a career of service, but it might not have the hip and cool bang that companies are so focused on today.”

The value, some point out, is in the history, the cause and the ability to activate at a key time of year when Major League Baseball and its stars may be top of mind, but may not be doing as much in the community as the focus goes to all on the field.

“MLB players do such great job in the community year round, and the reality is the lack of off days and the length of season sometimes literally plays against them in terms of recognition,” added Harrie Bakst, co-founder of WCPG, a firm that works with athletes, causes, and brands to grow awareness and partnerships. “The Clemente Award brings all of the aspects of community and social good together, and can be a great value add for the right brand. It all comes down to dollars but it certainly touches all the points that a forward-thinking property should like.”

The list of winners of the award is a “who’s who” of elite stars both on and off the field. As we see brands start to grow even more in the cause space, let alone the Latino space, an engagement with the Clemente name, its history and even where it can be expanded in the future, could become a more cost-effective buy, although this year it appears companies are sitting it out.

“When you talk to any Latino consumer of a certain age, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson are the trailblazing names that come up,” said Ray Negron, a longtime advisor to the New York Yankees. “However, the world we are in today is all about now, so that education process can never be taken for granted. I am sure companies are looking at this and wondering how they get a return on their spend, and if they hit focus groups and the response they get is vague, they can go and find other places to spend.

“They are missing the boat because we see the aura that still exists around No. 21 and the players who are nominated for the award. It is a business opportunity that needs to be realized again, just like Chevy had in the past.”

So who are the brands that could fit? Companies like Wells Fargo, who are spending more and more in the Latino space, or a mobile company like Verizon or T Mobile, could step up. Other financial services brands who look to activate more and more in the demo could also be a fit, as well as brands like Goya, who are pushing their engagement in the community with cost-effective spending. However the opportunity goes way beyond just a Latino base, and that is something that may get missed.

“You look at the winners of the past and the nominees again this year, and so many are just amazing citizens who embraced all Clemente was about,” Negron said. “It used to be The Commissioners Award and maybe that change has been a misnomer for companies when doing an evaluation on it. Regardless, it is one of the few awards that I think every player who is engaged off the field aspires to win, and I think a brand will win with the tie as well, just like in the past.”

To be sure, awards season is crowded, and the disposable dollars on the cause side can shrink the audience even more. However, for those companies looking to tie to stars on the field and off, in a window of time where fans are engaged, and create a legacy for good, the Roberto Clemente Award is there for the taking. It makes good business sense for all.

Featured Image: Ron Vesely / Major League Baseball