By Mason Levinson
Oct 4, 2012 12:01 AM ET
Cabrera, the 29-year-old third baseman for the playoff-bound Detroit Tigers, ended the regular season last night with 44 home runs, 139 runs batted in and a .330 batting average. By leading the American League in all three statistics, he became the first Triple Crown winner since the Boston Red Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski, nicknamed Yaz, in 1967.
Cabrera is a Venezuelan playing in a small market who, according to teammate and reigning AL Most Valuable PlayerJustin Verlander, “has been relatively under the radar for what he’s done.” He also has a history of alcohol abuse and will need to build his brand carefully and display his skills during the postseason to make the most money -- from around $500,000 to possibly over $1 million -- from the Triple Crown feat, said people who work in sports marketing and memorabilia.
“It’s probably going to be maybe a mid-six-figure boost,”said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising. “English isn’t his first language, he’s playing in Detroit and baseball is extremely regional, so unless you are a big-name star consistently making the postseason in a major market, it’s very tough to get big-time deals.”
A seven-time All-Star who won his second straight batting title, Cabrera is in his fifth season in Detroit after playing his first five with the Florida Marlins, where he helped win the World Series as a rookie in 2003.
Hall of Famers Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson, the only living Triple Crown winners, said Cabrera has the chance to participate in baseball’s most exciting month.
“I am glad that he accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title,” Yastrzemski said.
Cabrera signed an eight-year, $152 million contract with Detroit that expires in 2015, according to Baseball Prospectus. After making $21 million this season, Cabrera is set to make the same amount next year and $22 million annually in 2014 and 2015.
With $20.8 million in earnings, Cabrera was the 59th highest-paid athlete as of June, according to Forbes magazine, which listed his endorsement income at $200,000.
Cabrera has equipment deals with Wilson Sporting Goods Co. and New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., as well as a partnership with memorabilia seller DetroitCitySports, according to Cesar Sanchez, his marketing agent with SFX Baseball Group.
The publicity from winning the Triple Crown should help Cabrera showcase a more personable demeanor, which doesn’t come through while playing, Sanchez said in a telephone interview.
“He does have personality, it’s just that people don’t see it when he’s on the field,” Sanchez said.
From a memorabilia perspective, Cabrera would profit best from offering reasonably priced products and building his brand rather than trying for fast money by over-pricing items such as autographed baseballs, said Brandon Steiner, president of Steiner Sports Marketing.
“A lot of guys, they get this moment to grab the brass ring and instead of using it to get the ball rolling with their brand they do something really quick for the most amount of money they can make,” Steiner said in a telephone interview.“It’s usually a quick beginning and end.”
Steiner cited perfect-game pitchers Don Larsen and David Wells and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, who made the most by building a collection of autographed photos and balls around their big baseball moments. The memorabilia market for players such as Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, who failed to build his brand after throwing a postseason no-hitter, has dried up, Steiner said.
“Yaz still sells Triple Crown, as there’s been a collection put together around him,” Steiner said. “If Cabrera’s extremely reasonable and doesn’t get crazy, this can be a seven-figure ride he can get on.”
MLB already has a clear acrylic plaque containing“authenticated batter box dirt” to commemorate Cabrera’s Triple Crown on sale for $39.99 in the novelties and collectibles section of its online store.
The Triple Crown might bring Cabrera interest from Detroit-area corporations, though his best opportunity to profit comes through memorabilia signings and appearance fees, according to Peter Raskin, a sports marketer and partner at the Legacy Agency in New York.
“The Triple Crown is a great accomplishment but doesn’t always equal marketing success,” Raskin said in an e-mail.
Cabrera has had nine straight years of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI while posting a .318 career batting average. He’s also had some run-ins with the law.
He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in February 2011 after police spotted him drinking from a bottle of Scotch as he sat in his car alongside a Florida road. In March 2010 Cabrera said he was finished with alcohol. Five months earlier Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski picked him up at a police station following a fight between Cabrera and his wife that followed a night of drinking, according to the Associated Press.
Despite the off-field issues, Cabrera’s endorsement potential “actually ranks higher than what I anticipated,”said Darin David, an account director with Dallas-based Marketing Arm, which uses the Davie Brown Index that measures U.S. celebrity status.
His endorsement score, measuring the degree to which consumers identify him as being an effective product spokesman, ranks 907th of about 2,500 celebrities, on par with Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit and New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, David said in a telephone interview.
“At least in Herbstreit’s and Nash’s case, they do endorsements and get a lot of attention from brands,” David said. “The question is, Cabrera’s not getting the same level of attention from brands. I wonder if this will do it for him?” With more baseball to play -- the Central division-champion
Tigers open the postseason against the Oakland Athletics --
Cabrera will have a chance to perhaps double the profits surrounding his Triple Crown by further introducing himself to a
broader audience, said Dorfman.
“An MVP-caliber performance and a World Series ring could easily turn a mid-six-figure windfall into the low seven figures,” Dorfman said.