MLB Players: Success in the Big Leagues

Surging interest in baseball racks up huge scores in licensing

Jane Neal, Content Editor

May 1, 2024

6 Min Read
MLBPI x Framed Caps
Major League Baseball Cap MLBPI x Framed Caps

At a Glance

  • A License to Play
  • Heading to the Show
  • Going, Going, Global!

Baseball. In the U.S., it’s long been referred to as the “national pastime.” Major League Baseball (MLB) is a North American professional sports league, made up of 30 teams that compete in the American League and the National League. It is considered one of the most popular and financially successful sports leagues in the world. And interest is spreading as star players from Japan and elsewhere are building huge fandoms back home.

According to Statista, MLB generates billions of dollars in revenue every year, with an average of $319 million per team in 2021 from various revenue streams, including broadcast rights, merchandise sales, ticket sales and sponsorships.

The sport continues to grow in popularity. A recent Seton Hall Sports Poll, sponsored by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, found 31% of the general population plan to attend an MLB game this year, which is up from 26% last year.

Likewise, those sports fans who said they will attend a game this year rose to 43% this year, up from 38% last year. Among avid fans, 61% indicated they will attend an MLB game this year, up from 57% last year.

Evan Kaplan, MLB Players

A License to Play

MLB Players, Inc. (MLBPI) is a for-profit subsidiary responsible for managing all commercial activities on behalf of the Major League Baseball Players Association. MLBPI’s primary focus is bringing products and services to the market that feature the publicity rights (name, image and likeness or NIL) of its players. With over 100 marketing partners, MLBPI brings player-licensed products to fans worldwide.

License Global spoke with Evan Kaplan, managing director, MLB Players, about some of its more successful collaborations and plans going forward.

When it comes to licensing partners, Kaplan says MLBPI looks for collaborators who can offer something unique.

“Whether it be an innovation on a traditional product that appeals to an underserved fan demographic or a new product category entirely, we want to offer the best variety of MLB Player products and reach as many fans as possible,” says Kaplan.

The group is also looking for collaborations that put players at the forefront of product design and marketing.

“Our players have a lot to offer and their likeness carries much more value than just their name and number, so when a licensee creates a product that showcases a player’s personality, they capitalize on the opportunity to tap into a fan’s connection with the player as an individual,” says Kaplan. “One of our hard goods licensees, FOCO, is a great example of this. Instead of sticking to traditional poses for their player bobbleheads, they’ll create a Ronald Acuña Jr. ‘bat flip’ bobble and an Edwin Diaz trumpets bobble that actually plays his famous walk-out song. Not only do these products capitalize on each player’s unique attributes, but they also create a product variety that encourages fans to collect multiple products for their favorite player(s).”

Ronald Acuña FOCO bobblehead

Heading to the Show

Minor Leaguers all dream of their promotion to “The Show” … aka the Majors. Licensed deals can come from almost anywhere, but there’s no denying that Global Licensing Group’s signature show – the annual Licensing Expo – contributes to many of them. Kaplan cites a recent Expo success story in the MLBPI’s new headwear partner, Framed Caps.

“Headwear is a very popular product category for baseball fans, but the headwear offerings in retail channels have traditionally been team logo-focused with the occasional player number or signature on the side,” says Kaplan. “So, when Martin from Framed came up to our booth last year with three or four hat samples that featured player artwork front and center, we knew we had found the solution to getting player-centric headwear into the market for the first time. Framed Caps’ designs are unique, not only in the sense that they incorporate player artwork onto their hats but also that they use a variety of materials and colors that really make their hats stand out. It’s the type of product that fans will start seeing others wearing and ask, ‘Where’d you get that?’ because it’s unlike anything that’s been offered in the space before.”

Kaplan says that going into this year’s Licensing Expo, MLBPI was in a unique position that it hasn’t occupied in previous years. That’s because MLBPI now represents the commercial NIL rights of 5,500+ Minor Leaguers and numerous Alumni players in addition to the 1,300+ Major League players that were already under the MLBPI umbrella.

“With these additions, MLBPI can now offer unprecedented value in the form of opportunity for the entire life cycle of a player’s professional career – from Draft Day through retirement,” explains Kaplan. “For the first time, we’re in a position to capitalize on a prospect’s pre-debut hype cycle. If these rights had been available earlier, licensees could have been first to market with former top prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Elly De La Cruz and more. Our goal going into this year’s show is to showcase each of the three player groups that we now represent and identify partners across categories who will generate new business opportunities for our entire player base.”

Harper Betts jersey swap

Going, Going, Global!

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but Kaplan says MLBPI is seeing an increase in player interest on an international scale, especially in Asian markets due to the popularity of Japanese and Korean baseball players such as Shohei Ohtani, Kodai Senga, Jung Hoo Lee and others. But it isn’t just Asia, baseball is growing in popularity globally.

“Last year’s World Baseball Classic was also influential as it put MLB players on a global stage, strengthening their recognition and marketability,” says Kaplan. “Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, Randy Arozarena, is one of baseball’s best hitters and the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year, but his Instagram following skyrocketed by 300% following his performance for Team Mexico during the WBC. As a result of our players having more recognition internationally, we’re seeing not only international brands pursuing a player license but also current partners seeking to add international channels to their distribution.”

As the popularity of baseball grows globally, so do the opportunities for MLBPI. Kaplan says one overarching area of opportunity is finding products that appeal to the youth demographic.

“The increased presence of dynamic young players across the league has sparked a surge in interest amongst younger fans, and the player product offering hasn’t exactly evolved to fit the interests of these fans,” says Kaplan. “The same goes for women – the women’s fan wear space has grown in the past couple of years, but almost none of these products feature players. We want all fans to have access to products that allow them to represent their favorite player.”

This story was taken from the May 2024 issue of License Global. Read the full issue here.

About the Author(s)

Jane Neal

Content Editor, License Global

Jane Neal is a Content Editor for License Global. Working remotely in the great state of Wisconsin, Jane specializes in retail and pop-culture trends.

She has worked extensively in the communication field as a managing editor, advertising copywriter, technical writer and journalist. She detoured for several years into academia where she taught journalism, English and humanities at the college level.

A complete Marvel nerd, she enjoys food, films, fishing, friends and family … and alliteration.

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