6 April 2017
Yesterday this headline blazed at the top of ESPN’s website: Faceless of the Game: Where have all the MLB superstars gone?
The article talks about how a poll of thousands of Americans revealed that there isn’t a single active professional baseball player in the US among our top 50 favorite pro athletes. Zero.
The article poses this as a problem. I’m not so sure it is. So let’s talk about it.
The ESPN article focuses mostly on how baseball doesn’t have superstars and who could be a household name. But it spends very little time establishing why it even matters for MLB–or any organization or industry–to have icons.
Here’s the most it says: “It’s about using stars and developing stars and helping them become bigger names, as a way of reaching the youth.”
So basically it’s important to have sports icons because we connect more with people than teams. Okay, I can kind of see that. I root for the Cardinals, and I remember how awesome it was to watch Mark McGwire or Albert Pujols hit home runs. There’s a different level of excitement when a superstar is at bat.
From a sales and marketing perspective, though, do superstars sell more tickets? In the end, that’s what matters: Sports are a business. The goal of MLB is to get people in seats, in front of TVs, and in stores to buy merchandise.
It comes down to this: Is there a financial benefit to building stars?
Last year I ran a poll about guests of honor at conventions, and 51% of respondents said that a guest of honor has never been a deciding factor in their choice to attend a convention. Only 18% said that they’ve attended at least one convention they wouldn’t have otherwise considered were it not for a specific guest of honor.
But Evan Erwin at CoolStuffInc thinks differently, and he makes a good case.
Evan’s career before working at CSI was in the Magic industry (Magic the Gathering). It was there that some people dubbed him an “Enthusiasm Enthusiast”; he’s really good at making people excited about coming to an event. He found that one of the things that excites people the most is meeting stars whose work they enjoy and who make the hobby what it is.
So when Evan shifted his career into the world of board games, he was surprised that game designers weren’t revered–or even known–at the same level as professional Magic players. He posits that this has an impact on convention attendance and perhaps on game sales.
Part of the issue, according to Evan, is that many gamers simply don’t know what their favorite designers look like, nor do they have a structured opportunity to meet them at conventions.
“You can certainly become a fan of someone’s work,” Evan told me. “But you only become a fan of a person when you see them.”
I can certainly relate to this, as it’s been something I’ve shared with my fellow Kickstarter creators for years. There’s special connection forged when you see someone’s face on a Kickstarter page, when you feel like there’s a human behind the project you can root for–and not just now, but in the long term too.
In a few hours, a Kickstarter campaign for a web series about game designers will end. I’ve spent the last few days with the filmmakers, but when they originally approached me, I was hesitant: Could I really afford to take hours/days out of my work week for a few minutes of screen time?
Now I no longer care, because I had a great time thanks to the filmmakers being incredible people who I’m lucky to know. But maybe there will be some secondary benefits as well. Perhaps someone will see a friendly face on the screen and be inspired to join the hobby, design an awesome game, or perhaps even buy one of my games. We’ll see!
What do you think? Does star power matter?