Baseball fans in New York are reeling this week from the double whammy of the deaths of the New York Yankees’ principal owner George Steinbrenner and public address announcer Bob Sheppard. The loss of two long-time, larger-than-life, emotion-inspiring personalities has got to be a blow to a brand. In fact, Sheppard was frequently called “The Voice” of the Yankees.
So does this mean they’re now a brand without a voice?
And how did the Yankees brand accommodate both of those personalities to begin with? They sure as heck didn’t embody the same traits. Sheppard described his role by saying (mellifluously, of course), “A public address announcer should be clear, concise, correct.” A man after a simplifier’s heart, he was all of those things—as well as elegant, humble and gracious. Steinbrenner, on the other hand, was bombastic, famous for feuds and polarizing on matters both large and small—as even his passionate supporters would agree.
In truth, neither one of these iconic figures had been present on a significant operational level for a couple of years. Sheppard announced his last game in the 2007 regular season, missed the play-offs due to illness and never made it back (although his recorded voice did announce the opening Yankees line-up for the final game at the old stadium on 9/21/08). And since the new stadium opened in 2009, Steinbrenner was present just four times and had already largely turned the business over to his sons.
Yet here the Yankees are, with the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, beloved beyond reason by their loyal fans and arguably the most talked-about team in all of sports. They are enriched by each chapter in their story, but never substantially altered, even by the loosening of Steinbrenner’s iron fist of or the silencing of Sheppard’s golden voice.
Growing up as a Pittsburgh Pirate’s fan (don’t laugh; they were great then), my father preached the evils of the Yankees as exploiters of the nascent free-agency system who constantly upset the balance of Major League Baseball. While that might be true, that doesn’t define the brand, just as the loss of the principals this week doesn’t fracture it.
The truth of the matter is that the Yankees are a purpose-driven brand. The singularity and clarity of purpose withstands all upheaval, relentlessly drives them forward, motivates players, inspires fans…and infuriates foes. The Yankees exist to win. That’s an enduring brand.
Maria Boos is a strategy director for the Siegel+Gale New York office.