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Here Comes Aaron Judge, But Where Are the Brands?

The public fascination with record-setting dates back to the late 19th century, as documented in many reports from the era about new achievements in sport—particularly bicycle racing—as well as new feats of engineering and technology—tallest building, longest bridge, fastest ship crossing, etc.

The desire to see the obliteration of what was previously thought of as the pinnacle of achievement has continued unabated to this day, with Aaron Judge’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ American League home run record captivating attention across North America.

But while hands are wrung over who will get to watch the record-tying and -breaking dingers—viewers of YES, ESPN, TBS—or heaven-forbid Apple TV+--one thing is missing that nearly all other must-see sports events have: brand partners adding to the hype.

While the advertisers during game broadcasts and streams will benefit, the lack of a direct promotional tie to Judge’s chase of the record is a missed opportunity.

To be sure, arranging for such a promotion is not as simple a process as buying a 30-second game ad or a congratulatory spot once a record is set. There are plenty of moving parts, unknowns and a bit of risk to such an activation, but it’s not far-fetched to think that at least one brand would be willing to give it a go.

Such opportunities to associate with record-breaking are rare, mostly because of the timing and the lack of a guarantee of a successful outcome. Previous attempts to monetize a record chase have come when it appeared that setting the new standard was virtually a lock.

For example, prior to the 2002 NFL season, when Emmitt Smith was 539 yards away from becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Wheaties signed on to sponsor a Run With History” promotion.

In Judge’s case, his track record makes him a candidate to hit 61 or more homers at the start of every baseball season, but the likelihood of a bona-fide chase doesn’t become clear until close to the finish line. Not great for marketers who set budgets and calendars months in advance.

However, for a brand that could find some eleventh-hour funds, Judge’s 2022 pursuit of the record is as pretty close to a sure thing as you will find in sports. That brings us to second biggest challenge in creating a tie-in. Unless a brand wants to do a guerilla marketing campaign, it has to line up all the associated rights, a feat not easy to pull off when the clock is ticking.

In Smith’s case, his agents at AMG Sports put the “Run With History” program together and took it to market. As Sports Business Journal’s Terry Lefton wrote at the time, “included in the package are property rights from the NFL, Players Inc. and the Dallas Cowboys for use of Smith, the Cowboys logo and likenesses, and logos of other current and former NFL greats.”

Without that type of proactive involvement of a player’s management or the team they play for, brands may simply see the tie-in as too much work in too short a time.

That’s a shame, as such a historic—at least in sports terms—moment could offer a powerful platform to a brand looking to stand out in a crowded sports marketing landscape.

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