Michael Hand ’94
Michael Hand ’94 has marketed beer, cars, and candy bars. Today, he’s pitching baseball — selling Minor League Baseball to big towns and small cities across America.
“It’s fun to work on products you’ve known all your life,” said Hand, the chief marketing officer/president of Minor League Baseball Enterprises (MiLB). You may remember some of his previous campaigns, many of which have won major advertising awards. While working in marketing for General Motors, he created “Tiger Trap,” where Tiger Woods challenged golfers to play a hole with him, hit a par 3, and win a Buick. When he was at Hershey, the company unveiled a special Reese’s Dark Crunchy Peanut Butter Cup to coincide with the movie The Dark Knight. And for Miller Brewing, his Miller Lite campaign pitted the beer against market leader Bud Lite in taste tests.
“I’ve always liked the challenge of working for the number two guy, and trying to both educate and convince consumers that our product is better than the market leader,” Hand reflected.
In 2013, when Hand joined MiLB, he became the organization’s first-ever chief marketing officer. MiLB is the umbrella organization for 160 teams that include Class-A markets with 5,000-seat stadiums and Class-AAA markets with 18,000-seat stadiums. His task: create a greater nationwide awareness for the entire organization through Project Brand.
“Minor League Baseball has been around for 110 years, and in that time the league has never had a true overarching campaign,” Hand explained from his office in St. Petersburg, Fla. Minor League clubs played more than 10,000 games and attracted more than 42 million fans in 2014; Hand wants to ensure that attendance continues to stay strong. “Clubs have been successfully telling their own story and doing their own thing locally for decades, which they will continue to do. But now, we’re repositioning ourselves with the slogan ‘Celebrate Spring and Own the Summer,’ and stressing the emotional father-son, mother-daughter connection fans have to the game on a much larger stage. We’re telling fans and sponsors to get out in the sunshine and enjoy the family aspect of being at a baseball game.
“People are drawn to Minor League Baseball because it gives them the ability to relax and enjoy themselves,” Hand continued. “Our research showed that almost 80 percent of attendees leave the stadium and don’t know who won the game. People go for the giveaways, the mascots, and to have fun with the people from their community.”
One big selling point: Including tickets, parking, and snacks, a family of four will spend approximately $63 at a Minor League game, versus approximately $212 to watch a Major League game. The challenge? “It’s hard to get over the stereotype that the Minor Leagues contain players who are never going to make it,” Hand said. “We want people to see that Minor League players are the Major League stars of tomorrow. All-Stars like Derek Jeter and Mike Trout began by playing for Minor League teams before they became household names.”
And even though Hand is pushing league-wide branding, he still likes the quirky promotions that Minor League teams come up with on their own. One of his favorites was Salute to Seinfeld Night, by the Brooklyn Cyclones (NY), which included an Elaine dance-off contest and players wearing puffy shirts. And you thought getting a bobblehead at Yankee Stadium was a big deal.
— Benjamin Gleisser