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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred discusses league’s ‘tremendous opportunity’ to market its young stars

The league’s top executive talked about how baseball can broaden its appeal.

DENVER — As a part of his attempt to visit all 30 ballparks during the course of the 2017 season, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made a stop at Coors Field Wednesday to see the Rockies take on the Indians.

Prior to the game, Manfred met with members of the media and talked about, among other things, the league’s effort to better market the game and the current crop of young stars throughout the league.

“We do believe that we have a tremendous opportunity because of the number and quality of young players that have entered the game,” Manfred said.

Manfred touted the league’s emphasis on its players in marketing for 2017, inlcluding ads featuring three players involved in Wednesday’s game, shortstops Francisco Lindor and Trevor Story and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.

“This year in baseball is a completely player-focused campaign,” Manfred said. “If you watch the ads that we run to promote the game, they’re all about players.”

The commissioner noted specifically that this series of commercials featuring Cubs infielders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo has been among the league’s most popular over the past couple years:

More than just Bryant and Rizzo, Manfred said he sees a large group of young, talented players entering the league, giving baseball a chance to embrace the present and the future of the sport.

“I’m not a talent evaluator, but you do hear the buzz around the game pretty uniformly that we have a uniquely talented group of young players that have entered the game recently,” Manfred said.

Manfred also cited the league’s partnership with Under Armour, set to begin in 2019, as a significant opportunity for the MLB to expand its brand.

“We believe that in order to market our players as best we possibly can, we need a major consumer brand that is behind that effort,” Manfred said.

The deal, according to Manfred, is the biggest in Under Armour’s 21-year history, and the commissioner also noted that for the first time, a corporate logo will appear on the front of baseball jerseys when the agreement kicks in for the 2019 season.

“We wanted somebody that was focused most importantly on baseball because we believe baseball is the best game in the world,” Manfred said.

Before signing on with MLB, Under Armour was most notable for providing apparel for several major college programs, including Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame, as well as its endorsement deal with two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton. Under Armour is also endorsed by actor and former athlete Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“Under Armour has a fantastic reputation for relationships with players,” Manfred said.

Manfred also noted Under Armour’s appeal to young consumers, a demographic with which MLB is currently struggling.

“Under Armour skews young,” Manfred said. “It’s a brand that skews young and it’s important for us to have that young skew.”

As of 2016, Under Armour was third in market share for athletic apparel for 14-to-24-year-olds, behind Nike and Converse.

In addition to MLB’s own marketing efforts and the potential for future exposure via the Under Armour deal, Manfred credited the league’s broadcast partners, specifically ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports, with putting forward more effort in marketing a variety of players.

“Our broadcast partners have been great,” Manfred said. “Particularly in our national product about to expose our players, doing features on players that give fans the kind of access that they want.”

Manfred said his favorite of those features was one from ESPN with Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt, who showed his affinity for, and ability to sing, songs from Disney movies.

“It just gives people that touch that’s different than when you see somebody out on the field,” Manfred said.