George Steinbrenner was a complicated man. He was bombastic, tyrannical, profligate, seemingly at times unstable, and yet at times generous. In the early years (he bought the Yankees for $ 10 million in 1973), the franchise today is valued at over $ 1 billion. In 37 years of ownership there are few if any owners that can claim that kind of track record.
Steinbrenner often appeared to be a blowhard and buffoon. But he always exhibited characteristics that are instrumental in the stewardship of a successful brand.
1) Mr. Steinbrenner loved and adored his product and was a fierce protector of the brand. His methods were not always successful but there was never any doubt of his commitment to success.
2) The ‘Boss’ learned on the job and improved his own (and the team’s) performance over time. When Mr. Steinbrenner took over the Yankees they were at a low point and he brought them to back to back World Series victories within 5 years.
3) Harvey Schiller who worked with Mr. Steinbrenner for more than 30 years was quoted saying “Knowing George, most everything he did that appeared to be emotional was actually planned,” “His contributions to the marketing side of baseball are untold. He once said ‘I didn’t buy Seattle. I bought New York.’ He felt he had a responsibility to the market.
4) Once the Yankees became successful Mr. Steinbrenner leveraged that success into making the Yankees one of the most valuable sports franchises on the planet. Creating the YES network in 2001 was a brilliant idea and the Yankees ability to attract advertisers and sponsorships is nearly unparalleled in all of sports.
5) The Yankees had won 20 World Series championships prior to Mr. Steinbrenner’s arrival. But through his hard work and dedication to making the Yankees the best team and best franchise in sports, he created a legion of fervent and loyal fans that wear their Yankee colors with great pride.
6) Mr. Steinbrenner embodied word-of-mouth and viral marketing before those terms became part of the lexicon. The Yankees owned the back pages of the tabloids, and ESPN leveraged Mr. Steinbrenner’s famous tirades and sometimes bizarre behavior into must-see TV. – ESPN owes Mr. Steinbrenner a huge thank you for helping make that network more relevant.
As a Met fan I don’t ever wish that Mr. Steinbrenner had decided to buy the Mets instead of the Yankees. I prefer to live and suffer with my two Met championships in 47 years being the second team in New York. Yet as a marketing aficionado I am still able to recognize a marketing genius and brand champion when I’ve see one. And he never, ever, was boring. That’s more than can be said regarding the ownership of the Mets over the years.
The Yankees may continue to excel on the field but Mr. Steinbrenner will be missed for his commitment to winning and his brand. There will never be another major sports team owner like him.