Major League Baseball’s Opening Day ad featured over a dozen of the game’s brightest young standouts humble-bragging their way through a faux news conference. To steal the show from stars like Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout and New York Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton takes a special personality—and that’s exactly what Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor did. With his electric blue hair, the bilingual star, who was born in Puerto Rico and attended high school in Florida, used a microphone to deliver a perfect mock bat flip in the ad.
MLB isn’t the only brand recognizing the marketability of Lindor, a four-time All-Star at just 25 years old. New Era, New Balance, T-Mobile, SmileDirectClub and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America have all keyed in on the shortstop as the face of their latest campaigns, and Lindor considers working with them a blessing and a privilege.
“Personally, it’s flattering that these companies see me as the face of the companies,” he said. “These companies are worth millions and billions of dollars. And to put me as one of the faces of their brands means a lot. I’m honored to work with all of them because they have allowed me to be Francisco Lindor.”
Top marketing execs from some of those brands explained to Adweek the strategy behind choosing a star who plays in Cleveland and may not have as much name recognition as players who call some of the nation’s biggest media markets home—like Trout, Judge or Philadelphia’s $330-million man Bryce Harper.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that a guy who describes his personal brand as “happiness” goes by “Mr. Smile.” He’s someone people “gravitate to,” said Barbara McHugh, svp of marketing, MLB, adding the league chose Lindor as the All-Star Game ambassador not just because of his talent on the field, but also his work in the community and his infectious smile. MLB put Lindor at the center of its Play Ball Park, an All-Star week festival that features a virtual reality home run derby, brand activations, a zip line across the event and more.
To explain why Lindor is the perfect fit to market the game to the next generation, McHugh pointed to his experience in Puerto Rico last year after Hurricane Maria during a special series against the Minnesota Twins. “He really resonates with the kids,” she said. “You could just tell how much that they look up to him, and you really can’t ask for anything more when you’re trying to market the game.”
And that smile is what caught the eye of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the official nonprofit of MLB. “He likes to have fun, and that resonated with us because that’s exactly who we are, what we believe in,” said Frank Sanchez, national vice president, BGCA. The spot, which puts Lindor’s smile front and center, was produced in both English and Spanish with J.B. Smoove and Mario Lopez handling narration. Like the other brands Lindor works with, Sanchez added, BGCA chose Lindor in part for his ability to connect with consumers of all backgrounds.
New Balance and New Era tapped Lindor to rep their brands specifically because of his love of fashion, and Lindor, who considers himself a fashionista, is heavily involved in the design process for the sneaker brand. Spouting off Amiri, Balenciaga and Richard Mille as inspirations, Lindor said he provides input for what’s in and creates color palettes, logos and more for his own custom sneakers. Lindor works with the brand daily, making himself more than just a pitchman by “throwing himself into product discussions and marketing plans,” according to Pat Cassidy, global director, consumer marketing at New Balance, which is featuring Lindor in not just a baseball-centric campaign, but also in a global lifestyle campaign alongside other influencers.
At New Era, Tim Shanahan, business unit director, MLB, explained the brand is drawn to Lindor for similar reasons. He described the goal of New Era’s marketing as being “authentic, progressive and disruptive,” zeroing in on Lindor’s passion for fashion and his community as the main reasons for choosing him.