Let the Marketing of Derek Jeter’s Farewell Begin

The Derek Jeter farewell tour is coming, with the inevitable merchandising: caps and T-shirts with a Jeter-centric logo; dirt from his shortstop area packaged in vials; autographs; signed bases, balls, home plates and, well, almost anything else imaginable.

Derek Jeter, center, and the Yankees honoring Mariano Rivera, right, in 2011, days after his 602nd save broke the career record. Barton Silverman/The New York Times

The tour was going to happen whenever Jeter said he was retiring — and whenever fell Wednesday as he announced that 2014 would be his final season.

Didn’t Mariano Rivera just say goodbye after his Tour of 2013, when about 20 of baseball’s licensees created a long retirement line, including New Era caps with a special Rivera logo; Nike and Majestic apparel; and collectibles by Steiner Sports like a $15,000 game-used bullpen rubber from last Sept. 20 to 23? Delta Airlines dedicated a 757 to Rivera, placing a circle with his No. 42 and pinstripes, and signature, on the jet.

The Empire State Building might have to be renamed for Jeter to suit his stature.

The breadth and tenor of the season-long Adieu to Derek will largely be up to Jeter; his agent, Casey Close; and his family. He will want to balance his desire to give fans something to remember his final season by and his goal of raising money for his Turn 2 Foundation, as he did in 2011 during his quest for his 3,000th hit.

“This is really personal to Derek, so we’ll wait and see what, if anything, he wants,” said Brandon Steiner, the founder and chief executive of Steiner Sports, the official collectibles licensee for Jeter and the Yankees, among others. “I would expect him to be reluctant, but raising money for his foundation is always a premium for him.”

Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for business, said: “Derek is conservative in his approach to monetizing anything. We will be respectful and take our marching orders from him.”

The Yankees quietly kicked off the campaign within hours of Jeter’s retirement announcement. An email that hailed the coming season as his last offered this makeshift, Trekkian slogan: “Captain’s Final Voyage.”

Steiner suggested a phrase for his Jeter-goodbye products, but it may need a tweak given its undertaker’s tone: “The Derek Jeter Final Journey Collection.”

Lonn Trost, the Yankees’ chief operating officer, said Thursday morning that the team had not thought in detail about Jeter’s goodbye. “Right now, I don’t think he’s considering what Mo did, but we haven’t sat down to get his thoughts,” Trost said.

Rivera swept through major league parks like a benevolent monarch, receiving gifts from rival teams while endearing himself to the stadium workers, fans and families he met at each stop. That might not be Jeter’s style.

Brosnan said he could not remember anything as extensive as the tributes for Rivera, “who spent 20 years with a singular club, won five world championships, was in the playoffs however many times, and was the greatest player at his position all time.”

The merchandised tributes to Jeter for his 3,000th hit and to Rivera were unusual, but they clearly serve as models for Jeter’s farewell and for those of future star players.

Championship teams are commemorated with parades, licensed goods and White House visits. Retiring players usually receive days in their honor, with gifts. But season-long, coordinated campaigns are not de rigueur.

It will be interesting to see if Kobe Bryant, a career-long Los Angeles Laker, is treated like Rivera or Jeter. Had today’s sports merchandising and marketing existed in the 1930s, “Babe Ruth’s Final Voyage” would have been ubiquitous, and Babe-drunk booze bottles could have been repackaged as signed collectibles.

Already it is clear that the demand for existing Jeter goods is great and should be greater when they say “farewell” or have a patch with something like “DJ14.” Fanatics.com, the online retailer, said that on Wednesday, sales of merchandise with Jeter’s name soared 600 percent from the day before.

Steiner is prepared for whatever course Jeter decides, but Steiner’s entrepreneurial bent seems to be toward a full-out assault of Jeter merchandise. Steiner has been contemplating a campaign like this for years and slept only two hours Wednesday thinking of its outlines.

His New Rochelle warehouse has plenty of Jeter products that need only an additional photograph of his final at-bat, a vial of dirt or a signed ball to complete the type of created collectible that is his specialty.

“How do you get your arms around this sort of thing?” Steiner said. “He has so many moments, going back to the dive, to Mr. November, all the World Series. It’s massive.”

That sort of sentiment is what thrills a retail chain like Modell’s.

“Jeter 3,000 was insane,” said Mitch Modell, the retailer’s chief executive. “I think this will be bigger.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com


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