No matter where you sit reading this, there is likely a store within driving range offering New York Yankees merchandise. Such is the power of one baseball team, characterised by the vaunted interlocking NY insignia, we see its gear worn by urchins and immortals, heroes and villains, village folk and Presidents, from the Bronx to Berlin, from Birmingham to Brussels, from Bangkok to Brisbane.
Thus, spotting Yankee regalia in unusual places has become an enthralling daily pastime. You’ll find it in supermarkets and schools, on trains and in airports, at sports bars and movie theatres. Anywhere with a cultural pulse.
We’ve all witnessed Yankees gear in everyday life, and even those entirely bankrupt of baseball knowledge could identify the famous logo. Yet, quite surprisingly, nobody has ever seriously investigated why or how.
Why is the apparel of one sports team so popular, prominent and powerful?
How did the New York Yankees come to transcend baseball, bypassing borders of nationality, culture and creed to achieve universal eminence?
Frustrated at the dearth of research in this area, I embarked on a journey to answer these questions, investigate this phenomena, and understand, once and for all, how the Yankees’ brand came to permeate every fibre of contemporary life. The following story is enchanting and beguiling, intriguing and confounding. It involves baseball stars and gangsters, Presidents and rappers, Popes and dreamers. It’s a century-old tale, closely mirroring that of America’s Dream, concocted in stadiums and ghettos, cities and shopping malls. It’s a yarn of genius and foresight, adulation and imitation, desire and dignity. It’s the definitive answer to a recurring question.
Win, win, win
I began by asking a pool of relevant people, such as Yankee fans, baseball experts, fashion gurus and cultural researchers, one straight-up question: how did the team’s brand become so popular? Without exception, my sources pointed to the Yankees’ on-field success as the foundation of their commercial dynasty; the team’s historical preoccupation with winning making it unfailingly favoured by consumers.
“The brand became successful because the team was successful,” explains Daniel Burch, a diehard Yankees fans who owns The Greedy Pinstripes, a blog chronicling baseball in the Bronx. “Back in the 90s, for instance, New York-born rappers, actors and musicians would wear the gear because the team was good. Now, a whole generation of kids and young adults who grew up idolising these people want to wear the symbols and the gear themselves.”
Similarly, Brian Danuff, Editor of the 27 Outs Baseball network, places huge emphasis on sporting success when attempting to define the universality of Yankees merchandise. “I think the Yankees brand became so popular because it became synonymous with winning and success,” opines the native New Yorker. “I’d say those wearing the Yankees logo probably feel a bit more powerful and confident than those wearing, say, an orange Marlins sweater.”
Indeed, the Yankees are successful. They’re perhaps the most successful team in the history of elite sports, having won 27 World Series titles, 40 American League pennants, and 51 postseason berths in the 112 seasons of their existence. The next-best totals within the baseball realm: 11 World Series titles (Cardinals), 20 pennants (Giants), and 27 postseason berths (Cardinals).
Baseball’s unique 162-game regular season and lengthy playoff structure, coupled with the Yankees’ seemingly eternal success, has undoubtedly seen the Bronx Bombers win more individual games than any professional team in any sport since time immemorial. Thus, it naturally follows that the Yankees have dominated baseball throughout it’s history, winning back-to-back championships thrice, three consecutive titles once, four straight crowns once, and an unprecedented five-in-a-row between 1949-1953.
Traditionally, the Yanks have maintained the largest payroll, attracted the most fans, and generated the best revenue in baseball. As winning became habitual, a standard of excellence was naturally imposed, with some of the finest players who ever lived ensuring it’s enforcement and pushing New York to greatness. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Derek Jeter. All were the most revered players of their generation. All were Yankees. They were the keepers of the flame, the Stewards of Yankee Greatness, embodying the ethics, skills and ideals that enabled this team to rise from humble beginnings on the swampy banks of the Hudson, to frenzied veneration all over the contemporary globe.
Naturally, people want to identify and associate with such glory, such fortune, such persistentachievement. They want to be part of the mystique, the aura, the allure of Yankee baseball. They want to win. For many, wearing the team’s merchandise is the most convenient way of displaying an agreement with the distinguished qualities of class embodied by the Yankees, and expressing the innate human desire to be part of something that is prosperous and respected.
“When the Yankees have a nice run of championships,” explains Robert Casey, the chief of theBleeding Yankee Blue fan site, “it’s the greatest feeling in the world. The names roll off the tongue, and you’re just so proud to be part of an amazing history.”
“I’ve been a fan since ’78, so I understand wins and bad stretches, too. In the end, you always stick with your team.”
In the span of Robert’s fandom, the Yankees have won 6 World Series titles, 9 American League pennants, and reached the postseason on 20 separate occasions. Thus, the inspirational history of which he speaks is clearly perpetuated by continual success through numerous generations. Similarly, the Yankees’ brand, a pillar of popular culture for almost a century, is also a manifestation of that on-field achievement.
Accordingly, in attempting to ascertain exactly how their brand became so prevalent, it’s important to drill down into the bedrock and ask why the Yankees win?
The Great Bambino
“The Yankees grew out of a few main factors,” proffers Dan Barbarisi, the Yankees beat writer for the Wall Street Journal. “Being in the biggest city and market in America, harnessing the biggest star in Babe Ruth, and leveraging all of that at a time when baseball and communications technology was exploding.”
“They’ve maintained and built on those initial advantages through a combination of luck, spending and aggressiveness.”
Hence, as with most things in Yankee history, the success of the modern brand can be traced to Babe Ruth, the most seminal sporting icon who ever lived.
A brash orphan from Baltimore, George Herman Ruth battled convention to become the greatest player in baseball history, totally transforming the game by authoring feats of power previously deemed unthinkable in the Dead Ball Era, when teams, unable to launch heavy and damaged balls into the distant stands for home runs, instead tried to scratch out leads in a persistent war of attrition. In sharpening the home run as a clinical weapon, Ruth totally redefined how baseball was played. He was the first player ever to hit 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 long balls in a single season, with the Yankees being the main beneficiary, winning four World Series titles during his pomp.
In 1920, his first season with New York, Ruth hit 54 round-trippers, more individually than all but one team.The Sultan of Swat also broke the single-season home run record on four separate occasions; his sacrosanct mark of 60 reached only by one inspired hero (Roger Maris), and three chemically-enhanced turbo-athletes (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa), in the past 88 years.
Once a very accomplished pitcher for the Red Sox, with whom he won three World Series rings, Ruth was infamously sold to the Yankees in 1920 for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan to Boston owner Harry Frazee. Ruth transitioned into an everyday player, and became the finest power hitter of all-time, launching 714 career home runs, leading the Yankees to their first four championships, and planting the seed of renewable glory that would ultimately lead the Bombers to 27 crowns.
In his opus Pinstripe Empire, renowned Yankees historian Marty Appel explained how acquiring Ruth was central to everything that subsequently happened in team history:
“Of this, there can be no doubt: He became the face of the Yankees as they emerged as the best-known team in sports. All discussions of Yankee greatness, dynasties, and success begin with the Babe. Obtaining him proved to be the greatest transaction a team ever pulled off, and keeping his name and image front and centre proved to have enduring qualities for the franchise.” Indeed, the sheer unparalleled nature of Ruth’s ability was a gluttonous goldmine for the Yankees. In the first instance, his phenomenal on-field dominance drove the team up the standings and helped establish it after a spluttering start. Furthermore, the fact he was doing things previously unseen on the diamond piqued the interest of fans like nothing else in the annals of sport; literally millionsof people flocking to games just hoping to see the beloved Babe hit one out. This demand, in turn, allowed the Yankees’ brass to conceive of, build, and regularly fill to bursting, the first three-tieredstadium in baseball history.
Yankee Stadium, dubbed The House That Ruth Built in deference to the Babe’s pulling power, opened in 1923, a 58,000-seat monument to big dreams. In its first season, the Yankees drew 1,007,066 in attendance, at a time when a majority of teams struggled to attract even half that number. The Bombers regularly topped the 1 million plateau during Ruth’s career, and even became the first team to break the 2 million barrier in 1946. The Babe inspired an entire generation, and arguably an entire nation, of youngsters to become Yankee fans; an honour that was duly passed down through generations, as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle kept alive the flame of Bronx baseball excitement.
Naturally, with so many people flooding through the gates, the Yankees financial situation improved, which, consequentially, enabled them to acquire and keep the best players from around the league. This, quite obviously, put the Bombers in a strong position to win repeatedly, which, by extension, helped enrich the history, grow the fanbase, and widen the profit streams.
It happened as far back as 1930, when Ruth’s $80,000 salary was $5,000 more than that of Depression-era President Herbert Hoover, and it happened as recently as last year, when the Yankees outbid the field to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract.
The Yankees have the best players, ergo they win, ergo people want to associate with them, ergo ticket and merchandise sales are exponential, ergo the Yankees make money, ergo they can afford the best players, ergo they win some more. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Mystique and Aura
After decade upon decade of housing the greatest players, spending the most money, and winning the most games, those traits, those lofty expectations, became ingrained in what it meant to represent the New York Yankees. After the pinstripes were blessed by so many immortals, and after the famous diamond beneath the hallowed white facade was sprayed with so much celebratory champagne, there became a mystique to New York’s American League ballclub, an implacable aura that propelled even ordinary players, executives and managers to greatness. This fed the Yankee ecosystem anew, elevating every aspect of the franchise to yet more organic and sustainable success.
“The best part about the Yankees,” says Casey of Bleeding Yankee Blue, “is that new heroes are made in pinstripes. A perfect example is a guy like Scott Brosius. He had a terrible season with Oakland before he came to the Bronx. Then he came here and became a champion. It’s wonderful.”
Barbarisi, who travels all over the country reporting on the team for one of the world’s most prestigious papers, agrees with this notion, explaining that “fans associate not just with the symbols themselves, but with the people, believing that great players represent relatable ideals, such as rising to the moment, having a strong work ethic and overcoming obstacles.”
“The players are cast as role models, and the team needs to constantly keep refreshing itself with stars in order to maintain that.”
“They have an unofficial pact with the fans that they will show them larger-than-life figures and ideals, and they need to keep living up to that.”
This desire to constantly please a mammoth global fanbase, and honour the Yankee tradition of unremitting triumph, is a costly business. Under the aegis of George Steinbrenner, the team’s megalomaniacal owner from 1973 until his death in 2010, the Yankees stopped at nothing to build a winning ballclub. No player was too expensive, no trade too disruptive, so long as the Bronx Bombers won. Steinbrenner would fire staff, cajole players and spend money at obscene rates, hoping to achieve what he believed to be the franchise’s minimum objective every year: winning a World Series championship.
“George Steinbrenner was one of those figures in the game that you either loved or hated,” recalls Burch of Greedy Pinstripes. “He definitely changed the game in many ways, and made the Yankees what they are today.”
“Major League Baseball is a business, first and foremost, but Mr Steinbrenner treated the Yankees as his hobby, not his business. The Boss made his millions in horse racing and the shipping industry, which led to him treating the team more like you and I would on PlayStation.”
“That made things more fun for the fans, and made them not only want the best, but expect the best, by any means necessary.”
Steinbrenner once said that “there are ballplayers, and then there are Yankees,” attempting to articulate the burden of greatness bestowed upon those donning the hallowed pinstripes. Indeed, throughout his reign, The Boss was incredibly willing to pay exorbitant salaries in order to secure those special players he deemed good enough to represent the famous New York ballclub.
After purchasing the team for $10 million from CBS, Steinbrenner quickly sanctioned a large payroll, which, from $14.2 million in 1985, bloomed to $54 million just eleven years later. By 1999, the Yankees were paying their players a combined $86 million; by 2002, $125 million; by 2005, $208 million; and, by last year, a staggering $258 million.
Of course, in that time span, baseball mushroomed from a genteel pastime into a lucrative, $9 billion industry, with free agency and large network television deals flooding the coffers. Yet, quite obviously, such excessive payrolls could not be maintained without a dedicated fanbase and strong core revenue streams. In those fields, the Yankees are totally unrivalled.
The team has ranked first in American League home attendance every year since 2003; it has averaged at least 40,000 fans per home game every year since 2001; and, remarkably, it remains the only team to draw more than 4 million spectators in a single season four separate times. At the Old Yankee Stadium, the Yankees regularly played before capacity crowds of 56,000, whilst the modern incarnation attracted 3,401,624 spectators in 2014, further substantiating the team’s eternal allure.
Every single one of those fans paid a small fortune for the pleasure of watching the New York Yankees, with tickets at the contemporary Stadium ranging from $5 in the bleachers to $235 in field level boxes. The new ballpark also has 56 private luxury suites and 410 party suites, which often sell for more than $20,000 per game.
Every cent generated from such ticket sales, and that of accompanying food, drink and merchandise, trickles back into the grand Yankee juggernaut; a juggernaut that, according to a March 2014 Forbes study, is worth $2.5 billion.
The investigation found that Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, the team’s parent company spearheaded by the Steinbrenner estate, achieved annual revenues of $461 million in 2014, with those figures expected to soar above $500 million in the near future. Forbes categorised the Yankees as the fourth most valuable sports team in the world, behind soccer giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, but found the Bronx Bombers’ brand, valued at $521 million, to be easily the most profitable anywhere in the world of sport.
New York’s Finest
With assets and revenue streams dwarfing anything else in the realm of MLB, it’s clear that the Yankees are much more than just a baseball team. In addition to an envy-inducing record of success on the field, the organisation has become a paragon of brand management off of it, dominating pop culture, entertainment and fashion spheres with a flawless versatility rarely evident in sports teams. Over time, the Yankees’ multi-faceted notability has saw the franchise morph into an ubiquitous staple of American heritage; this high-living, big-dreaming, quick-spending baseball team serving as an embodying avatar of New York.
As Barbarisi explains, “the Yankee hat has come to symbolise New York, and both its glitz and grit, in a way that no number of I Love NY t-shirts ever could.”
“If someone wants to show that they’ve been to New York, or that they associate with its culture, they buy a Yankee hat.”
“The Yankees are New York.”
So, by inference, the Yankees are The City That Doesn’t Sleep; the Yankees are the greatest city in the world; the Yankees are a hub to which masses, of every race, religion and creed, flock with burning ambition and bright ideas. They’re larger than life. They’re superior. They mean something.
“The Yankees are incredibly important to New York City,” says Danuff of 27 Outs Baseball. “They represent the tradition and glory of the city.”
“Each day, the sun will rise, millions of people will go to work in skyscrapers all over town, and each night, there’s an amazing baseball game to be played in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium. This hasn’t changed for a century-plus.”
“This, coupled with the successes that the Yankees have had, and the pride that New Yorkers have in their sports teams, leads to this very special relationship between the city and the team.”
Clearly, the Yankees are the largest, most-beloved sports team in the boldest, most-influential city on Earth. The team benefits immensely from calling New York City home; this giant melting pot of stunning geographical diversity, architectural splendour and cultural significance lending it a certain glamour, relevance and poetry.
Even if, for arguments sake, the Milwaukee Brewers had twenty-seven World Series titles in the cabinet, people wouldn’t really care. They wouldn’t luxuriate in the same level of universal approval because, well, it’s Milwaukee, with all do respect. New York is larger, flashier, and altogether more enchanting. Hence, just like most components of its culture, the achievements of the city’s sports teams are elevated, exalted and magnified to a unique echelon of meaning. In New York, everything justmatters more, including the Yankees.
“When the Yankees win,” says Burch, “I feel much in the same way I do when my kids do something that impresses me or makes me feel proud.”
“I put my heart and soul into this team and I truly love the Yankees and their storied history.”
Robert Casey shares this immense passion, this sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. “We became fans because of our fathers and mothers, who became fans because of their parents and grandparents before them,” he says. “And we’ll pass down that fandom to our kids. It’s an incredible fanbase and I’m very proud.”
“The interlocking NY is part of my daily attire. I’m proud to wear it on my head or over my heart, as I board the train or travel to another city. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter.”
Indeed, returning to the central nexus of this essay, we see Yankee garb everywhere. Here in Britain, I’ve seen toddlers wearing Yankee dungarees, pensioners donning Yankee hats, and middle-aged women hauling Yankee bags. On my travels through continental Europe, I’ve witnessed folks in Yankee jackets and Yankee gloves; Yankee shirts and Yankee shoes. It’s a full-scale cultural phenomenon.
“I moved from the Bronx to metro Atlanta, Georgia, around ten years ago,” regales Yankee fan Daniel Burch, “and you see Yankees gear from Florida all the way up to New York, and everywhere in between.”
“In my years as a blog owner,” he continues, “I’ve spoken with people from the Philippines, Australia, Ukraine and many places across Eastern Europe who love the blog and wear Yankees gear while rooting for the team.”
This would please Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ top brass, which actively plots to exploit the team’s intoxicating history in carving a brand fit for mass global consumption. In this regard, the Yankees not only seek to compete with, and dominate, domestic rivals such as the Boston Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys and LA Lakers, but also overseas enemies like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.
“The Yankees absolutely see themselves as a global brand,” Barbarisi informs. “Baseball doesn’t have the reach of international soccer, or the domestic footprint of the NFL, but they [Yankees executives] believe that their brand should be marketed all over the world.”
“Baseball may not be as big as soccer, but the Yankees, I think, are as well-known as any major soccer power.”
That, in itself, is a remarkable achievement. In metaphorical terms, baseball is a small acorn on the global landscape, whilst soccer is a giant oak. Yet the Yankees, emerging from that comparatively minuscule environment, have mastered brand management and on-field performance to such an extent that, to worldwide audiences, they’re just as familiar as the products of more universally popular spheres. This is an incredible feat that’s often overlooked; the Yankees’ rise to international adulation acting as tangible evidence of the American Dream.
If I can make it there…
Once again, the strategic importance of New York City in the Yankees’ fight for dominance cannot be downplayed. With it’s iconic skyline, hallowed theatre district, and strong commitment to multiculturalism, the Big Apple is basically unrivalled as a cosmopolitan hub. New York is the most linguistically and religiously diverse city in the world, with almost half its denizens fluent in more than one language, and more than 7,000 churches, 1,000 synagogues and 250 mosques nestled within its sprawl.
Times Square, that monument to human ambition, is known colloquially as The Crossroads of the World, and, in a trend-setting sense, that moniker is unquestionably accurate. New York is undoubtedly America’s pre-eminent city, at a time when, owing to increased globalisation, America has never held such influence over cultural tastes around the world.
Nowadays, the main staples of culture, namely food, drink, film, television, music and technology, are dominated by US interests. Our initial awareness, understanding and consumption of most products is derived from media coverage; from Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Overwhelmingly, these outlets are US-owned, which, naturally, and fairly innocently, means there is a US bias, leading to the general public becoming more familiar with American products, American values, and American culture.
In this regard, the entire planet has been drawn like a magnet to US tastes. There are currently 35,000 McDonalds’ restaurants in 118 countries around the world, drawing 68 million people each day. Similarly, there are 3.5 billion Google searches every day, 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 645 million people using Twitter. All were created, developed and expanded in the USA. All are still headquartered, managed and moderated there.
Here, we also see how the Internet, a US-dominant tool, has created an invisible global ether of information without borders. With 60% of the worldwide population owning a WiFi-connected cell phone, the boundaries of taste, culture and preference have, just like those of geography, been considerably blurred. Within five minutes, I can have at my fingertips news from around the world; sitting at my desk in Wirral, England, I can instantly see what’s happening in Sydney, Australia, or the Bronx, New York.
And, if what’s happening is rappers, actors and stars wearing Yankee merchandise in music videos and on entertainment shows, the connected global society, a creature prone to imitate celebrity, is bound to follow suit.
The Imitation Game
Which leads us to Jay Z, the king of hip-hop who, in his smash hit Empire State of Mind, claimed to have “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” The rapper, deemed by Forbes to be the 6th most powerful celebrity on Earth, is a lifelong fan of the Yankees, regularly attending games and franchise events. In 2009, he even performed at the Bombers’ World Series victory parade, where he hung out with star player Alex Rodriguez.
Moreover, in a fashion sense, Jay Z has become synonymous with the Yankee brand; his penchant for wearing team merchandise in music videos, on album covers, and at concerts amounting to free publicity for the team, and helping shape his trademark image.
Jay Z, the husband of Beyonce with more than 100 million record sales in his career and a reported $560 million in his bank account, is naturally a trailblazer within contemporary pop culture. The guy has more than 22 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, a modern day barometer of his exponential popularity and influence. People like to follow and imitate the King. Therefore, when Jay Z began wearing sporting jerseys in the late-1990s, everyone else did. When Jay Z went through a phase of wearing all black in the mid-2000s, everyone else did. And, crucially, when Jay Z started wearing New York Yankees hats and jackets and t-shirts, everyone else did.
This age of technological advancement has, more than ever, catalysed a celebrity-worshipping culture, with millions of adoring fans around the world clamouring to get closer to, and be just like, their heroes. If Justin Bieber says anything, we talk about it incessantly. If David Beckham attends a certain event, we write about it to the nth degree. If people in the public glare even so much as move, we want to know where, when, how, and why. Therefore, these people, these stars, such as Jay Z, have an entire planet looking towards them for inspiration and guidance. Every step they take is charted; every word analysed; every action debated. Whatever Jay Z does, says, eats, drinks, wears, endorses, or supports is, rather hopelessly, bound to be accepted and copied, often without due thought, by the loving masses.
Thus, in so frequently wearing Yankees gear, he, perhaps more than any one man, had a crucial impact in fuelling its exorbitant popularity. When Jay Z popularised Yankees merchandise, other players within the hip-hop world, such as 50 Cent, P Diddy and Busta Rhymes, followed suit, jumping aboard the rolling bandwagon. And when celebrities from other spheres, such as Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, saw their musical friends mastering this new look, they joined the party. And, before long, a lengthy list of rich, famous and influential people were spotted wearing Yankee gear, from Donald Trump, Kate Hudson and Lady Gaga to Adam Sandler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ashton Kutcher; from Chris Rock, Tiger Woods and Paul McCartney to Hilary Clinton, LeBron James, and Muhammad Ali.
Every time one of the aforementioned celebrities wears Yankee apparel, that image, that famous, interlocking NY, is beamed across the world and devoured by the millions of fans loyal to said celebrity. Then, naturally, people seeing their heroes don a certain garment want to wear it themselves, creating yet more demand for Yankee merchandise; a demand the team, hoping to compete on the international stage, gladly accommodates, flooding the market and making it easier to obtain Yankees merchandise around the world than that of almost any other sports team.
Crime Scene Capitalism
At this intersection between the brand’s widespread availability, and its association with Jay Z, a rather sinister phenomenon has arisen: criminals, especially those hailing from the Bronx, gravitating towards Yankee attire when selecting uniforms for their gangs.
In September 2010, a New York Times investigation discovered that, in the first decade of the new millennium, “more than 100 suspects or persons of interest in connection with serious crimes in New York City wore Yankees apparel at the time of the crimes.”
In attempting to understand why so many criminals wore Yankee gear, the Times turned to chronologist Frankie Y Bailey, who cited what he called “the Jay Z effect” as a possible cause, contending that “criminals might be wearing Yankees merchandise not because they are fans of the team, but because they are fans of the cocked-hat look popularized by Jay Z and other rappers.”
Indeed, there is a direct, and well-documented, link between hip-hop and gang culture, with the genre often glorifying violence and focusing on the gun-toting, drug-dealing ways of the underworld. Therefore, as the foremost icon of hip-hop, Jay Z’s sphere of influence naturally extends to the tastes and preferences of those gangsters who traditionally identify with that genre. Thus, perhaps indirectly, his persistent endorsement of the Yankee brand, and his occasional reference to the Bombers in rap lyrics (“School of hard knocks, I’m a grad, and that all-blue Yankee is my graduation cap…”), has, entirely unbeknownst to the team, given it a footprint within contemporary gang culture.
As time moves on, and the versatile Yankee brand becomes more prevalent in the myriad cultures of music, fashion and celebrity, it naturally matriculates into a permanent fixture on our societal map. We see Jay Z wearing a Yankee hat on the cover of his latest album, which leads to it being seen around the world, which leads to increased interest in the Yankees, which leads to inflated demands upon their star players to make appearances and endorse products, which leads to Derek Jeter representing Nike and Gatorade and Rawlings, which leads to the Yankee brand standing front and centre on store racks in most every major municipality known to man.
Of course, the Yankees don’t really care where the popularity of their product is derived, so long as people keep buying caps, jerseys and jackets. Theirs is a multi-faceted, multi-functionary, multiplying juggernaut, quite unlike anything else in the realm of organised sport. In providing awesome amounts of revenue, the Yankee brand is central to the plans, and ultimate success, of the Yankee team. Accordingly, Yankee executives are happy to let interest in their stock fester anywhere, from the Hollywood hills to the gloomy ghettos; from the mighty metropolises to the faraway farms.
But the Yankees also curate their brand with a touch of genius, polishing and pruning in all the right places to produce a simply irresistible package. “The Yankees are very, very aware of the power of their brand,” concludes Barbarisi, “and if you come to the Stadium itself, they make every effort to remind you of it, to the point of occasionally beating fans over the head.
“But it’s very effective. The various montages, Yankeeographies, the way the team celebrates it’s own history and past players. It creates a true tie to the past that is a real business asset.”
The Yankees are awash in business assets. Major companies cling to the franchise like a moth to light, eager to capitalise on the Yankees’ worldwide fame, to the point whereby the team now has an official car supplier, an official credit card partner, and, yes, a preferred mayonnaise and salad dressing. For the Yankees, opportunity abounds to make money, often just by lending that illustrious name to a cause.
However, the team has also been exceedingly creative and proactive in pursuing fresh commercial opportunities. For instance, the Yanks were one of the very first sports teams to utilise their stadium to generate revenue on non-gamedays; The House That Ruth Built hosting political assemblies, religion conventions, college football and soccer matches, heavyweight boxing fights, music concerts and even a circus. Where else in the world would you find one single building that has seen Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali fight, Knute Rockne coach, Johnny Unitas drive, Pele and Eusebio battle, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI deliver Mass, Nelson Mandela orate, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio bat, Lou Gehrig speak, and George W Bush throw a ceremonial first pitch? Where else, but old Yankee Stadium?
During it’s 85-year existence, 151,959,005 people attended a Yankees game at baseball’s original cathedral. That’s more than the entire population of France, Great Britain and the Netherlandscombined. And, without doubt, many of them were inspired to visit by seeing so many unique and historic events at the old yard. Inspired by the Pope entering from beyond the centre field wall like Mariano Rivera, treading hallowed ground. Inspired by 123,707 people cramming into the Stadium in 1958 for the annual Jehovah’s Witnesses Divine Will International Assembly, the largest crowd ever to pass through the sacred gates. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, then arguably the world’s most beloved man, donning a Yankee hat and jacket at the Stadium in June 1990, before declaring “I am a Yankee.”
Not only do these aforementioned events create baseline revenue, but they also had a deeper, more spiritual impact, too. For instance, the effect of Mandela, so powerful and adored around the globe during his post-Apartheid tour, associating himself so clearly with the New York Yankees cannot be accurately quantified. But, surely, it grew the fanbase by thousands, with people wanting to share the views and beliefs of this towering man.
Accordingly, there are Yankee fans in every crevice of the civilised globe, each with their own unique inspiration for loving the team.
In 1999, the Yankees tried to capitalise on this bedrock of support by creating their very own television network, blazing a trail and creating what, ultimately, would become the brightest jewel in the crown of their sparkling brand. When fully established, the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES), gave the team complete leverage over their own broadcast rights, and, as Marty Appel concludes in Pinstripe Empire, it “became the most lucrative regional sports network in the country.”
Indeed, the YES Network, presently worth almost $4 billion, generates more than $350 million for the Yankees every year, a figure that allows the team unparalleled fiscal flexibility when attempting to construct a winning team each winter. Therefore, by putting the best players on the field, the team succeeds, which, in turn, replenishes the grand ecosystem anew.
Alas, the New York Yankees are truly unique. They generate more revenue, attract more fans, and linger in the public conscience more than any other baseball team; they have more business assets, and more business sense, than any other sports team; and they possess a brand of such worth, eminence and sustainability as to be the envy of major conglomerates around the world.
The Yankees are compulsive winners; the team of dignity and class, celebrity and fame. The Yankees are impulsive spenders; the team of big ideas and still bigger dreams. The Yankees areNew York; they are America; they are ambition.
This team, and it’s sacrosanct brand, is loved by sports nuts and all-world politicians, by musical behemoths and gangland rascals, by New Yorkers and Europeans, Asians and Africans.
Accordingly, in twenty years time, just like twenty years ago, people will daydream about the Yankees, this baseball team from the Bronx, and wonder how it became so ubiquitous, on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines, at stores and stadiums. They, like you and I, will be curious, asking how the brand of one sports team could reverberate around the world with such aplomb. If you have the compulsion, send them to me, or refer them to this article, where the answer, once and for all, lies within.