Why the Braves Are Still America's Team: A Lesson in Brand Integrity
Across the nation, trucks are delivering cases of franks, guys are boning up on pitching rotations and spouses are breathing a collective sigh of dread for the beginning of the most glorious time of the year: baseball season. With 162+ games of slow, smoldering Americana ahead of us, nowhere is the excitement for the return of the boys of summer stronger than it is right here in Atlanta for our beloved Bravos.
Of course, there’s no shortage of Braves caps or Chief Noc-A-Homa shirts at any given time of the year in our office or anywhere around the A, but what about in Gulfport, Mississippi? That’s where my grandparents live, and I remember as a kid watching Braves games at their house with my grandfather, a professed Braves fan.
What about Nashville? Greenville? No other team, with the possible exception of the Red Sox in New England, has dominated a region of the U.S. like the Braves have done in the Southeast. There’s a reason that, despite an average payroll and only one championship to its name, the Atlanta Braves more than any other organization have come to be known as America’s Team, and it has more than a little bit to do with brand integrity.
If you don't got it, flaunt it
For the uninitiated, the broad fan base of the Braves is due in large part to 30 years of nationally broadcast games on TBS under the ownership of Ted Turner. A man replete with quixotic notions (he once challenged Rupert Murdoch to a nationally televised fistfight and said that he’s dedicating the rest of his life to saving the world), Turner in the 1970s declared the Braves “America’s Team.”
It ended up being a brilliant marketing move. The moniker stuck with them throughout some highly suspect performance in the 80s and finally paid dividends in 1991 when the team with the worst record in baseball the previous year ended up in possibly the greatest World Series of all time against the Twins.
That was the first of 14 consecutive division titles and one of the most dominant eras of any team in baseball history. Their Napoleonic rule of the National League in the 90s meant that people had no choice but to call them America’s Team—the moral of the story being: fake it ‘til you make it.
Why it's not the Yankees
“Pish!”you might say. “Clearly the Yankees are the most popular team. Just look at how many Yankees hats there are in the world.” It’s true. The number of Yankees logos per cap-ita far outnumbers any other team’s, and Forbes has valued the Yankees brand as the most valuable in all sports (even beating out Manchester United).
Americans returning from trips to England note thousands of Yankees caps worn by Britons. Short Round wore one in Temple of Doom, and he was Chinese. Even the kid who found Gadaffi was wearing an NY cap at the time. Certainly its ubiquitous nature adds equity to the Yankees brand, but what does it do to brand integrity?
The Atlanta “A” is a solemn sacrament taken on by people truly invested in the team, in the city, each one adding its strength to Braves Country. Conversely, having the broad reach it does only serves to dilute New York’s name. Like a planetary nebula, the Yankees brand is vast but hollow. Is it safe to say the Yankees are the world’s team? Sure. The world can keep them. We’d rather be America’s team.
Why it's not the Yankees continued
Okay, so setting aside the pharisees who wear team logos without any of the implied allegiances that go along with them, how have the Yankees diminished their brand among baseball’s loyal? By being ridiculous for starters.
Take, for instance, this fascinating nugget: the combined salaries of the six Yankees players expected to start the season on the disabled list are higher than the entire payroll of 14 teams, including the Braves.
There’s no denying the incredible legacy of the Yankees, and to be sure the amount of paper being shaken around many MLB teams has reached Ludacris levels, but if the Yankees of today were America’s team, it would be the America of rampant industrialism and pre-Sherman Act monopolies. It’s easy and fun to imagine old Bull Moose himself trust-busting the Yankees front office with his meat tenderizer fists.
Especially in recent years, as their Liberty Media owners have been slashing payroll, the Braves have had to do more with less—a lesson many Americans have learned recently. In this respect, the Braves are by far the more relatable and more genuinely American brand. We’re not the team of the ostentatious, and we prefer it that way. Plus the Yankees are going to be terrible this year.
Dispense with the nonsense
The Braves’ brand of no frills high thrills baseball is something any sports fan or patriot can appreciate. The organization as a whole is known for professionalism (except maybe this guy) and low drama. The Braves maintain a winning tradition while avoiding much of the hoopla that usually comes with that.
Prima donnas? I don’t think so. Slackers? Not on our watch. Andruw Jones was once taken out of a game mid-inning for lackadaisical play because Bobby Cox doesn’t take guff from anyone, as demonstrated by his record 161 game ejections. You didn’t give Bobby Cox the high hat; you don’t give the Braves the high hat; and you sure don’t give America the high hat.
That being said, the Braves know the difference between taking their work seriously and taking themselves seriously. Their dugout is filled with goofballs and seems like a lot of fun. These are guys who seem like they genuinely appreciate playing America’s pastime for a living. Just look at Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, two of the all-time great pitchers, also responsible for one of the all-time hilarious sports commercials.
In summation, the thing that makes the Braves America’s Team is more than just the widest true fan base in all of Baseball. It’s a consistency in how the organization comports itself and how the brand defines itself. Sure the title of America’s Team may have been arbitrarily bestowed on them over 30 years ago, but since that time they’ve fought to earn it; and that might be the most American thing of all about them.
So wherever you go in this great nation of ours, look up at the red, white and blue and know that those colors mean you’re in Braves Country. Don’t stop the chop.