By Barry Janoff
April 2, 2013: Minor League Baseball boasts an historical roster that includes some of the most of the sport's greatest players, from Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron to Derek Jeter, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Mike Trout. MiLB has also played host to some pretty unusual events: "Pre-Planned Funeral Nights," in which one fan won an all-expenses paid funeral; "Nobody Night," in which fans were kept out of the stadium until the fifth inning; "Toilet Seat Cushion Night"; "Life Before Toilet Paper"; "Spam Carving Night"; "Zubaz and a Monkey Night"; and "Tattoo Night."
But Minor League Baseball, with a history that traces back to 1868 but which officially formed in 1901 and played in 1902 as the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now has a new first: It's first chief marketing officer.
MiLB this week named Michael Hand as CMO, making him responsible "for securing substantial, strategic partners; marketing and creative services; strategic brand and message positioning; and developing and implementing marketing programs."
Hand's arrival coincides with the 2013 season and the official launch of "Project Brand," a national marketing effort targeting Corporate American and designed to "promote the industry, enhance franchise values and create significant national sponsorship revenues by leveraging the combined branding power of all 160 MiLB clubs," according to MiLB president and CEO Pat O'Conner.
The tag line: "160 Teams. One Brand."
"We have an interesting brand that has largely been untapped in its totality," said Hand. "Companies have traditionally worked local relationship deals one market at a time. They would come to the main office and say, 'We want to do a program in California,' and we would Band-Aid ten or 15 teams in a market. But they really weren't coming to us to build a program to tap into all 41 million-plus fans who attend Minor League Baseball games. We are now coming in to talk to companies and marketers on a national basis."
Hand has experience in the corporate side, with a resume that includes tenures in the marketing and executive departments of BMW of North America, General Motors, Miller Brewing and Hershey. He joins MiLB following four years with IMG Worldwide in New York, most recently as svp-marketing & strategy for the IMG College division. There, he directed development of new business proposals for national, regional and local clients across more than 70 collegiate properties through customized brand activation platforms.
"We feel that Michael is the most dynamic and qualified person to lead Project Brand and help our clubs and industry reach their maximum potentials in terms of branding and sponsorships," O'Conner. said in a statement. "His vast business experiences working for some of America's biggest and most powerful brands for more than 15 years are tremendous assets that he brings to the position."
According to MiLB, attendance in 2012 was more than 41 million league-wide.
"Minor League Baseball has clubs in 43 of the 50 states, with great fans that represent a cross section of our country," said Hand. "I look forward to building the profile of our $700 million industry in the corporate community and beginning partnerships with companies who recognize the appealing nature of our industry and fans."
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