Winning the World Series could do more than end a centurylong drought for the Chicago Cubs and their long-suffering fans. A victory on baseball's ultimate stage could launch the team's charismatic young stars, and its grizzled manager, into the sports marketing elite.
The road from local car spots to corporate spokesperson generally takes time for most athletes. But the Cubs have become a national story extending far beyond the city and baseball fans, opening up a world of marketing opportunities for the team.
"There are going to be a handful of players — especially if they win the World Series — that will come out of this with deals," said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship research and valuation firm. "They are the big sports story of the moment. That story is only going to get bigger if they win."
Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are most likely to land marketing deals, but Javier Baez, co-MVP of the National League Championship Series, may be ready to break out on the sponsorship front as well, Andrews said. If someone else rises up as World Series hero, that could change the game as well.
Currently, the Cubs have a pretty low sponsorship profile. Cubs manager Joe Maddon hawks liquor for Binny's Beverage Depot and pitcher Arrieta relieves Jake from State Farm. Andrews expects local sponsorships to ramp up after the World Series.
Getting national endorsements is no lock — even if the Cubs prevail, Andrews said.
"Typically, you won't see someone land a big national spot, even after a World Series win," Andrews said.
Baseball players generally don't rake in endorsement dollars on par with stars from other sports, such as basketball, soccer, tennis and golf, according to the Forbes list of 100 highest-paid athletes for 2016.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the highest-paid baseball player, ranking 33rd with $32 million in annual pay. But endorsements represented only $800,000 of Kershaw's total. Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, who tied Kershaw at No. 33, made $12 million of his $32 million from endorsements.
If ratings are any guide, the Cubs already have demonstrated their broad appeal to a national audience.
Saturday night's NLCS clincher over the Dodgers was the most-watched telecast in the three-year history of Fox Sports 1, averaging 9.7 million viewers nationally and a 6.3 rating for the national cable network, according to Nielsen. In Chicago, the game delivered a huge 25.8 rating, meaning more than a fourth of local households watched.
The ratings likely will climb when the games shift to the Fox television network for the World Series beginning Tuesday night. WFLD-Ch.32 will air the broadcasts in Chicago.
That success has early player sponsors, such as State Farm, smiling. The Bloomington-based insurance company signed Arrieta for the local Jake from State Farm spinoff spots in July.
Created by longtime State Farm ad agency DDB Chicago, the original Jake from State Farm ads first aired in 2011, featuring a husband caught by his wife making a furtive 3 a.m. insurance phone call. A call from Arrieta's agent convinced Ed Gold, advertising director at State Farm, to use the Cubs pitcher in relief.
"We made a big bet and I was as nervous for the Cubs getting to where they are today as I was for the bet we made from a marketing standpoint on this whole thing," Gold said. "I feel very, very good today."
Arrieta is signed with State Farm through the end of the year.
Michael Binstein, CEO of Binny's Beverage Depot, signed up Maddon as a spokesman for the family-owned Chicago liquor chain during his first season as Cubs manager in 2015. Spots featuring Maddon ran during Cubs games throughout the regular season this year, but not in the playoffs.
Binstein said he sought Maddon's early endorsement based on his baseball success and down-to-earth qualities that made for a potent marketing cocktail.
"This is not a bet on a pennant or a World Series," Binstein said. "It was our endorsement of a man and what he we thought his contribution would be to the civic life and sports life of a city over the long term."
Andrews does not expect Maddon to become as ubiquitous a pitchman as former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who has endorsed everything from jewelry stores to impotence drugs since winning the Super Bowl in 1986. But if the Cubs win the World Series, he expects the offers will roll in for Maddon.
"I would think Joe Maddon would be a little bit more selective and we won't see him hawking everything under the sun, but he could do a few more if he wants to," Andrews said.
Binny's, which once worked with Ditka on his own brand of now-defunct wine, is looking for bigger things with Maddon, Binstein said.