Reporting from Surprise, Ariz. — Who's the face of the Dodgers?
Manny Ramirez? He was signed to a two-year, $45-million contact last spring to be a headlining act in a star-driven city — only to be exposed as a drug cheat, slump miserably and return four months later promptly predicting that this season would be his last with the Dodgers.
So who's on deck?
Before Ramirez put himself under a gag order this spring, he encouraged reporters to spend less time talking to him and more time talking to the players he considered the cornerstones of the franchise: Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
A couple of weeks later, a shipment of the Dodgers' 2010 media guides was delivered to Camelback Ranch and on the cover of the 472-page book: Ethier and Kemp.
Team President Dennis Mannion said the Dodgers are not looking for Ethier and Kemp to replace Ramirez as the face of the club, saying they were selected for the cover to commemorate the Silver Slugger awards they won last season.
Mannion said that although Ethier and Kemp will be featured in various marketing campaigns, so will other players.
"I am against using individual players as a platform to market your team," Mannion said. "We have a team-oriented approach to everything we do. I think that sells tickets every bit as well as focusing on an individual star."
Mannion said that so long as the team wins, fans should show up to the ballpark. He argued that promoting one or two individuals could lead to jealousy-fueled rifts in the clubhouse that would compromise the team's ability to win.
Of how the Dodgers heavily marketed one player entering last season, Mannion said, "Manny was somewhat of an anomaly. The way he performed in 2008 really mandated use of him. But there's another part of this. If you remember, he got signed close to mid-March. We had a great deal of season-ticket work to catch up on. To me, it made sense to tell as many people as possible that Manny was back."
Dodger Stadium will still have a Mannywood section of the left-field corner of the field box seats, but Mannion said the Dodgers are unlikely to have a similar promotion with any other player.
Rick Burton, a former U.S. Olympic Committee chief marketing officer who teaches sports management at Syracuse University, said that baseball teams do not necessarily need a single player to represent the club. Because of the number of games that are played each season, Burton said, "Night after night, you're going to have a different hero."
David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, said there was one clear advantage to marketing young players like Ethier and Kemp.
"Any time you can put the focus on the stability and the ability to field a competitive team with some quality guys for a long period of time, that should deflect attention about what's going on with the McCourts," he said, referring to the costly divorce proceedings of owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie.
Ethier and Kemp are three seasons away from becoming free agents, but both of them signed two-year deals over the winter, Ethier for $15.25 million and Kemp for $10.95 million.
Carter said he believes the pair have the potential to become legitimate stars.
"Playing for the team that they do in the market they do certainly gives them the platform," Carter said. "They're going to have to push the envelope and they're going to have to demonstrate they have personality."
Kemp has already started to do that, becoming a tabloid star over the winter thanks to his relationship with pop singer Rihanna.
But Mannion said the Dodgers do not want to push that image on the public. Nor do they want to take advantage of Ethier's popularity among female fans. (The exception could be a possible second go-round of an Ethier-led yoga session last year that was attended by 100 fans, most of them women.)
"I think all those things related to outside the game itself should take on their own organic life," Mannion said.
Ethier said that the responsibility that comes with being the face of the team is one he and Kemp take seriously, and that they have talked about the increased role they will play in forming the image of the club.
"It comes with it," Ethier said. "It's what comes with the territory. If this is where you want to play, this is what's going to come with it. We're going to fight and push back and not want to do stuff sometimes, but if you want to play like the best and be one of the best, that's part of it."