Cutch's mass appeal continues to grow
By Bob Cohn
Published: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 8:52 p.m.
As usual, Andrew McCutchen showed up at 7 a.m. for his daily, early-spring training workout at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. After about five hours under the Florida sun and a lunch break, he made the short drive to McKechnie Field for what became a nearly four-hour video and photo shoot for the New Era hat company.
This happened one day last week, and McCutchen's days have been getting longer, his calendar increasingly filled. At 27 years old, the Pirates All-Star center fielder and reigning National League MVP has vaulted past mere stardom and his stature as the so-called face of a small-market franchise. The electricity he generates on the field, the dreadlocks and his smile are known to millions. “Cutch” is likeable, marketable and saleable, good for business and not just the Pirates'. MVP is nice, but McCutchen has made it in another way: He is a brand.
“It's been an amazing rate of growth,” said John Fuller, whose New York-based Full Athlete Marketing firm represents McCutchen.
Braden Dahl, New Era's head of sports and entertainment marketing who coordinated last week's shoot, said, “We've seen the trajectory of his awareness. The McCutchen brand has definitely skyrocketed in the last two years. He's always been a great player, and now he's become a household name and an ambassador for the game of baseball.”
Joining the likes of Buster Posey, Manny Machado and David Ortiz, McCutchen is one of eight baseball players representing New Era, the official cap of Major League Baseball (and the NFL), during its 2014 marketing campaign. In Pittsburgh and its surroundings, “He is larger than life,” Dahl said.
But New Era has a national and international reach, as does McCutchen. Last year, fans voted him onto the cover of the video game “MLB '13: The Show.” Even with the game's a no-repeat rule — Miguel Cabrera is on the 2014 cover — McCutchen's likeness will appear on the new edition's back cover, and he again is part of the ad campaign surrounding the release.
McCutchen also has marketing agreements with Marucci bats and Hunt Auctions, and on Friday, he renewed his deal with T-Mobile.
“We were so pleased with Cutch, we re-signed him for the 2014 season and plan to use him more prominently in our marketing communications,” said Mike Belcher, T-Mobile's vice president of media and sponsorships.
McCutchen said he is enjoying the ride.
“It's good to have an image,” he said. “I have the hair, but eventually I'm gonna cut it. ... It's a lot of fun. I have a lot more opportunities at-hand to be able to do different things. I don't mind it. I don't have to say yes to everything.”
McCutchen proved that Friday when he said no to a planned project with MTV and MLB. He had been listed, along with Ortiz, as executive producer of a 30-episode weekly series combining baseball and pop culture scheduled to air on MTV2.
“It was a very time-consuming project,” McCutchen said. “I just couldn't see being able to pull it off.”
But MLB remains enamored with McCutchen, who was featured in the “I Play” promotional TV spots last season and likely is to be a key player again in the new campaign.
“Andrew is on every list of ours,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president for business. “It obviously begins with the fact that he can play. What first draws fans or marketers or anyone to a player is performance. So you start there, and then it's his public persona. He exudes confidence and personality and a certain joie de vivre. He takes the field with enthusiasm. He appears in public. He's got a magnetic smile.”
As the Pirates ended their 20-year streak of losing seasons and made the playoffs in 2013, McCutchen's profile ascended. McCutchen jerseys were the eighth-highest seller after the All-Star break. According to the Repucom Celebrity DBI, an index that quantifies consumers' opinions of celebrities, the general perception of McCutchen is racing up the charts. Repucom is a worldwide sports marketing agency.
“Eighty-eight percent of people report liking him to some degree,” said Kathy Gardner, the global head of DBI. “He is one of the most appealing players in Major League Baseball,” outscoring Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, among other familiar names.
“From an awareness standpoint, he's jumped a lot” from July through January, Gardner said. “He's refreshing and a good role model. He has this great personality that makes him relatable to the general public.”
In an email, Brian Chiera, the Pirates' senior director of marketing, summed up McCutchen's appeal this way: “Personality, likability, and he gets it. When we do things for us to market the team, he understands the importance of it and the goal of it.”
After a 13-0 loss to St. Louis in August, McCutchen “more than kept his word to appear” at an event called Faith Night, Chiera said. “He spoke at length about his faith, and when put on the spot to quote his personal Bible verse, he didn't hesitate and said it word for word. He wasn't just playing a part.”
All of this makes McCutchen a marketer's dream, the Pirates' first home-grown star — the first genuine, big-ticket star, period — since Barry Bonds more than two decades ago. But where Bonds was hauling considerable baggage even before he bulked up, McCutchen travels light. He is the anti-Bonds: approachable, upbeat and level-headed. Even with cameras and probing eyes everywhere, nothing tawdry or embarrassing surfaces. The only hiccup, barely, came in May 2011 when manager Clint Hurdle benched McCutchen for failing to run to first base on a dropped third strike. He was contrite, and the matter quickly faded.
McCutchen has embraced community service and charity work for the Pirates. He has a terrific back story, growing up in the tiny town of Fort Meade, Fla., the son of parents who were 17 when he was born and struggled financially yet managed to instill strong values. He scored additional points by accepting a six-year, $51 million contract extension in 2012 that delayed free agency and looks like a bargain for the Pirates. He said loyalty was more important than money. Imagine that.
In December, McCutchen proposed to girlfriend Maria Hanslovan on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” It was hokey but endearing, solidifying his appeal to an audience broader than any PNC Park crowd and sprinkling his persona with more humanity and even a touch of romance. Women loved it.
“He's got so many tangible and intangible assets, on the field and off,” Dahl said. “His personality, his professionalism, and this extends to on the field and off.”
McCutchen's involvement with T-Mobile is mainly through social media, which suits the company to a, well, T.
“Andrew has a very strong following in social (media), and I think that has a lot to do with who he is, the person he is, how he conducts himself off the field,” Belcher said.
In November, McCutchen turned up in Los Angeles at the American Music Awards, presenting Luke Bryan the trophy for best male country artist. He was the only sports presenter, selected not only for winning the MVP and his love of music but also his “incredibly charismatic personality,” AMA producer Larry Klein said. “It made perfect sense.”
Staff writer Rob Biertempfel contributed. Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.
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