The Dawn Of Athletic Endorsements
Read about how Major League Baseball benefited from aligning itself with keen marketing programs to get its fledgling brand out to prospective customers in the 1870s.
American Tobacco Company
Major League Baseball
the branding of baseball
tobacco advertising in baseball
With spring training finally over and the 2014 Major League Baseball season in full swing, aficionados are cracking open the peanuts and Cracker Jack and perhaps downing a few hotdogs and wobbly pops to cheer on their favorite team.
As part of the machine that is MLB, it plethora of annual marketing gimmicks will be issued to engage even the most casual baseball fan—such as collectable baseball cards, uniforms to buy, bobbleheads and the like.
Although baseball cards, and indeed sports cards in general, no longer come packed with a stick of chewing gum that could rip apart one’s upper palette upon first bite on a chilly April day, they are still highly collectible, and have been since the turn of the last century… even earlier, in fact.
Cigars and cigarettes led the way, with colorful images of ball players from the early 20th century gracing small paperboard cards that were originally blanks used as stiffeners in the tobacco products until some smart marketer decided to use the space to promote a product.
Things really took off when the cards began to showcase an event, sport or person, with a company advertising their products on the rear. Back in the early 1900s, popular motifs included: aviation, royalty, war, theater stars and of course, sports figures, including hockey, lacrosse, soccer, cricket and in the United States—baseball.
In fact, the most valuable collectable sports card is from baseball, the noted Honus Wagner tobacco card that was recalled after the anti-smoking Wagner objected to his likeness being utilized to promote the product. A Hall of Famer, an early collectible sports card, combined with rarity and you now have a prized item valued at $1-million or more. One sold a few years ago for $2.8 million.
Go ahead and check your kid’s collection, but card T206 (see image above) issued by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911, but there only appears to be some 60 to 200 cards ever making it out to the public.
But… even before the dawn of the 2oth century, baseball was being used to sell products… and itself back in the 1870s, as the National League had only begun in 1867. To grow its market, the professional league sought to align itself with various brands of tobacco and alcohol.
To learn more about the dawn of American sports marketing and branding, check out article penned by MLB’s official historian John Thorn on the PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) website: HERE.