By Barry Janoff
(Originally published at MediaPost.com)
April 1, 2013: Hollywood could not have scripted Mariano Rivera's retirement any better.
Last month, Rivera said that the 2013 MLB season would be his last, having worn a New York Yankees uniform since 1995.
Not only will it be the conclusion of a stellar, soon-to-be Hall of Fame immortalized career, it will be the last time any MLB player gets to wear No. 42 on his regular baseball uniform.
In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first MLB appearance, baseball retired No. 42 for all teams. However, a "grandfather clause" was enacted, enabling players who were at the time wearing the number to keep doing so.
According to MLB, there were 13 men wearing No. 42 when the number was retired, most notably Rivera and Mo Vaughn, then with the Boston Red Sox. Other than April 15 — designated by MLB in 2004 as an annual Jackie Robinson Day, on which every MLB player wears No. 42 — Rivera was the last No. 42 standing after Vaughn retired in 2003.
The film, 42, from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, opens on April 12, just three days before the anniversary of Robinson's first official appearance in an MLB Brooklyn Dodgers uniform — April 15, 1947.
MLB has put its support behind the film, as have such marketers as Walmart, Marriott, Subway, Ball Park, New Era and Amtrak.
The challenge, however, has been to respect Robinson's achievements while accommodating consumers.
"Jackie Robinson was more than a legendary ball player and his legacy extends far beyond the playing field," Timothy Smith, vp-marketing for Ball Park, said when the brand unveiled its 42 activation. Marketing is anchored by Internet, social media and packaging advertising; a Facebook sweepstakes offering such prizes as a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (where Robinson was enshrined in 1962); and in-store alliances with Kroger and Safeway. "We couldn't be more proud to align our brand with 42 and celebrate the life of Robinson while also rewarding our fans," said Smith.
At Marriott, support of 42 has come via a Marriott Rewards Facebook game with movie ticket giveaways and a chance to attend the Hollywood premiere. Marriott also created a souvenir 42 key card and has been airing in-room a personalized message from Chadwick Boseman attached to the film's trailer. Marriott said it would hold screenings of 42 in Boston, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Phoenix for "elite Marriott Rewards participants" and have screenings for employees in New York and Washington DC.
"This is the story of one man overcoming incredible odds to achieve his dream and open the door for African Americans during a troubled and divisive time in the country's history," Apoorva Gandhi, vp-multicultural markets and alliances, Marriott International, said in a statement regarding the 42 alliance. "We applaud its message of equality, inclusion and opportunity, which are values we embody in our Marriott culture."
Retail giant Walmart said it is using the release of the film "to salute African Americans who overcome barriers, then and now," according to Sharonda L. Britton, director of multicultural, African American and Asian marketing. Walmart filmed a series of videos with supplier partners sharing their stories, which began airing in-store in February during Black History Month, and has incorporated the movie into other activations as the premiere nears, including in-person appearances from Boseman and items such as framed posters and photos of Robinson in action.
QSR chain Subway has been running a TV spot, with a heavy focus during March Madness games, in which several of its "Famous Fans" athlete spokespersons talk about Robinson's legacy, followed by a call for consumers to see 42 in theaters.
Now through April 14, Amtrak is offering travelers a 42% discount on a companion rail ticket "aboard most Amtrak routes" with the purchase a regular full adult ticket. Explained Amtrak, "It's our way of honoring the greatness of No. 42, Jackie Robinson, and the upcoming Warner Bros. film."
A blatant case of cashing in on the cache of Robinson's life? Not really. In February, Della Britton Baeza, who has been president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation since 2004, was presented with the Amtrak Pioneer Award for her outstanding community contributions and leadership; and Meta Robinson, the granddaughter of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, accepted a similar award on behalf of her grandmother.
Among other activations, New Era has a Jackie Robinson "42" Brooklyn Dodgers American Legend Collection 59FIFTY Cap, with a portion of sales going to The Jackie Robinson Foundation, the national, not–for–profit, organization founded in 1973, the year after his death, "as a vehicle to perpetuate the memory of Jackie Robinson through the advancement of higher education among underserved populations."
Support has also come from platinum sponsors of The Jackie Robinson Foundation, which include Coca-Cola, Unilever and General Electric, as well as New Era, MLB and the Dodgers.
CMG Worldwide, which works with the Jackie Robinson estate, has enacted deals including Panini trading cards and Mitchell & Ness jerseys.
MLB herld special screenings of 42 at various Spring Training camps, led by the Dodgers, which hosted some 350 current and former players and executives at their event.
Harrison Ford is scheduled to attend a benefit showing of 42 in Kansas City on April 6, where Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 and is the site of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (tickets are sold out, per the Museum).
This is not limited to the U.S. In Montreal, where Robinson played for the minor league Royals in 1946, a video remembering Robinson's Canadian tenure is currently screening in Cineplex cinemas prior to 42 trailers.
This July, the New York Mets' Citi Field will be the site of the MLB All-Star Game. The venue features the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, built to resemble the entrance to Ebbets Field, where he played for the then Brooklyn Dodgers, and featuring an eight-foot tall 42 sculpture and photos of Robinson in action.
Robinson, who was the NL rookie of the year in 1947 and MVP in 1949, was honored with a Google home page "doodle" on Jan. 31, what would have been his 94th birthday. Twitter handles include #JackieRobinson and #42Movie. And although the movie takes place in the 1940s and 1950s, the soundtrack is given a 2013 spin with "Brooklyn Go Hard" from Brooklyn native Jay-Z.
"We couldn't be more proud to align our brand with 42 and celebrate the life of Robinson while also rewarding our fans."
Robinson himself was well aware of the power of brands and marketing. He played himself in the 1950 movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story." And he was an executive at Chock full o'Nuts from 1956-1964, using his status to continue to raise awareness and support for racial equality.
“I carried the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years, and I tried to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor,” Rivera told reporters when he announced his retirement plans. “Being the last player for us to wear No. 42 is a privilege.”