Mariners commercials are back! The how & why

April 2nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- The clips were short but the impact was massive, and given how long that Mariners Commercials had been off the airwaves, their return last week for the first time in five years had fans both casual and fervent sharing -- and perhaps above all, laughing.

The bits -- shorter than 60 seconds and satirical in nature, using a play on nicknames and other team-affiliated monikers -- were released in each of the three days leading up to Opening Day. But the genesis of bringing them back, the massive production commitments and the collaborations with the participating players detail months of work behind the scenes.

“We’d been thinking about it, but this team is so unique and such a great group of guys, too -- so we wanted to do anything we could to showcase the personalities,” Mariners director of digital marketing and social media Tim Walsh said. “We certainly drew off the old commercials, and there was a large group effort to make it happen.”

Between the first airing in 1980 and the most recent in 2019, Mariners Commercials grew to be hugely popular for their creative concepts that allowed the personalities of the players featured to shine. But for many reasons -- the pandemic in '20, then the team's mostly unproven talent emerging from a rebuild in the years after -- there hadn’t been a good fit for the bits until now.

Which leads to 2024, where there’s a wealth of characters to work with among a long-term core with the cachet of being proven big leaguers.

Julio Rodríguez -- featured in “No Fly Zone, huh?” -- has become one of the faces of the sport, much like his stage partner, Ichiro Suzuki, was during his heyday.

Luis Castillo, who plays Dwayne Johnson’s “The Rock” as an homage to his own nickname in “Do you smell what La Piedra is cooking?” is a three-time All-Star and here on a five-year contract.

Cal Raleigh, who drives a dump truck as a nod to his “Big Dumper” nickname in “The ultimate carpool,” is at the center of the franchise’s most monumental moment in decades.

“Everybody knows what we do on the field and kind of our attitude out there and what we're all about, and that's number one,” Raleigh said. “But it's cool -- especially with social media these days, everybody's on Instagram and stuff like that -- to find little tidbits and kind of do a throwback of what they used to do. You saw legends like Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer -- guys like that do those. It's kind of cool now to see that we were doing them kind of in their shoes.”

Walsh, Mariners Productions director Ben Mertens and vice president of marketing Gregg Greene were among more than a dozen staff that heard fans clamoring for the commercials to return, so they began brainstorming in November. They drew on many from yesteryear -- more than 150 of which are on the club’s YouTube page -- but wanted to carve a more modern spin. As such, they’re being branded as “digital shorts.”

“What did they do in the past? And what was fun? What worked?” Walsh recounted. “But how could we kind of take a more digital-first approach this year and put them on social and into our digital channels first?”

They also built in room for adaptation, allowing players to bring ideas after being pitched the concepts at the outset of Spring Training.

For example, Castillo incorporated his signature fist flex during the bit of him dressed as Johnson’s famed look in the 1990s, wearing a black turtleneck with a gold necklace. And Woo, with the least MLB experience among the four pitchers in Raleigh’s bit, called “shotgun” to ride in the catcher’s dump truck.

But the best was Ichiro’s idea to pinch his thumb and index finger, attempting to catch the fictional bug in the skit of Rodriguez wielding fly swatters in the feature playing on Rodriguez’s defense being a “No Fly Zone.”

“He took me off guard with how serious he was,” Rodriguez said of his longtime mentor. “I just didn’t know how he was going to act in a commercial, but he was into it.”

There was also tremendous legwork into the production in Arizona.

Walsh and Mertens coordinated with the City of Peoria to borrow the truck a month in advance. They gathered Castillo’s wardrobe from Target, Amazon and even personal collections from some. An Easter egg also resided with Rodriguez, a Franklin Gutierrez fly swatter giveaway from 2011, which birthed from Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus’ nickname for him as “Death to Flying Things.”

“It was pretty easy, except I thought it was going to take like 30 minutes, but it took like three hours,” joked Bryce Miller, who was featured with Woo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert in Raleigh’s skit.

These were the three ideas they landed on, but many more were on the whiteboard -- and it sounds like they’ll see daylight down the road.

“We obviously know these types of videos certainly make a connection,” Mertens said. “We certainly saw that was the reaction. So I think when the opportunity and the ideas present themselves, I think our group would like to take advantage of those.”