Red Sox: World Series Champs and Rebranding Geniuses


As you’ve probably heard (how could you not?), on October 30th, 2013 the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at Fenway for the first time since 1918. This title was particularly impressive seeing as the Red Sox performed less than satisfactory last year.

The 2012 Boston Red Sox season goes down in history as the one of the worst that the team has faced. It was the 112th season in the team’s history and the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. However, 2012 was also the year of the team’s first losing season since 1997, their first season with 90 or more losses since 1966, and overall, their worst season since 1965. The Red Sox ended the season with a 69–93 record, a last place finish in the American League East. Needless to say, when the team suited up in April this year for spring training, the Red Sox was a truly tarnished brand.

Just one year later, the author of this article from Sports Illustrated rightfully stated, “The Red Sox pulled off the baseball equivalent of turning around a hulking battleship on a dime in the middle of the ocean.” So how did the Sox go from a last place finish in the American League East to World Series Champs? Though they couldn’t have done it without Big Papi, good marketing and strategic PR played a bigger role in their World Series win than you might think.
A recent article titled “How the Red Sox Won Back the Hearts of Boston Through Brilliant Marketing” credits five key rebranding tactics in the great Red Sox turnaround. Here’s the Big Fish take on these tactics:

1) Purge the Brand Killers

The first step in the rebranding of the Red Sox was to rid the team of those who tarnished the brand. They let go of manager Bobby Valentine, who proved to be a bad fit for the team. Valentine was unable to foster trust and communication among the players, which translated to poor performance on game day.

“The feel was different, the clubhouse was different,” Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz said about their new manager. “Having Farrell back in the mix was big for us. A lot of the guys were here when he was the pitching coach and had a relationship with him. He basically ran a really relaxed clubhouse and then expected people to do your business between the lines.”
In addition, they got rid of overpaid players who were not producing results.This included Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. These players were not only losing games, but also would have cost the Red Sox $250 million in salaries through 2018.
2) Be Accountable

Another great move by the Red Sox was to admit their wrongs. The team knew that it would be much easier to admit to having made mistakes and move forward, than to ignore that there was a problem altogether. In doing so, they opened themselves up to an opportunity to mend relationships and gain fans.

The article cites that at the start of the 2013 season, the Red Sox unveiled a new advertising campaign. The ads admitted that they let down their fan base the previous season, and looked to reassure them that the next season would be better. To add a cherry on the proverbial rebranding sundae, the Red Sox executed this move perfectly by putting the face of fan favorite, Dustin Pedroia, on the ad.

3) Build Community and Seize Opportunities

In light of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox stepped up and became more than just a baseball team for the city of Boston. As the article notes, they became the epitome of the phrase Boston Strong, wore commemorative patches on their jerseys, invited police officers to the stadium all season long, and commended the survivors at Fenway games. To further emphasize their love for Boston, the Sox even hung up a 617 Red Sox jersey in their dugout every game, representing the area code for the city. Through these efforts, the team made it clear that they value and are committed to the people of Boston.

“I was just getting to know the city of Boston, and all of a sudden, it happened and it pulled me so close to the city because it hit so close to home,” catcher David Ross said in this article. “Remember 9/11, and it was like everyone was a New Yorker all of a sudden? [This bombing], it happened a mile from where we live. I’m a Bostonian now.”

4) Add Personality

A major problem for the 2012 Red Sox, according to the article, was that the team lacked “likeable” players. A big issue arises when players are perceived as only being there for the large contracts, rather than the love of the game and a commitment to winning. There is a big difference between hiring big name superstars and hiring players that bring character and prove to be a good cultural fit.

For the 2013 season, the Red Sox brought in new players who seemed to be more personable and a better cultural fit for their fan base. This included Johnny Gomes and Mike Napoli. These players proved to have brought an ever stronger sense of community to the team, not to mention a newfound love for beards!

5) Win Games!

Although the article cites “grow beards,” as the Red Sox’s fifth step to success, I’d credit something else: winning games! No marketing or PR strategy would have been effective for the team if they did not produce results. Clearly, their rebranding strategy paired with high performing players resulted in a World Series win and the highly anticipated duck boat parade on Saturday, November 2nd. You can find more details about the parade here.

“Return to the river, we want to go into the dirty water,” stated Mayor Tom Menino in a press conference on October 31st.

Dana Harvey, Spring 2013 Intern

BIG fish PR is an unconventional agency that helps its clients redefine their industries.