Ohtani becoming a global brand icon

April 14th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani received countless accolades during his incredible 2021 season that saw him win the American League MVP Award unanimously, get awarded the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award and become the first player to be elected an All-Star as both a pitcher and a position player.

But that unbelievable season also helped put Ohtani on the map both nationally and globally and made him Major League Baseball’s most marketable player in recent history. He’s the first player to be featured on the covers of GQ, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated and MLB The Show in a six-month span. On Opening Day, he starred in three different national commercials.

Ohtani is estimated to earn $20 million in endorsements in 2022 before taxes and agent fees, according to a report by Forbes.

That amount is more than triple what Ohtani earned in endorsements last year, when he made $6 million. And it's roughly triple what the next closest MLB player is expected to make in endorsements this year as well, ahead of Phillies superstar Bryce Harper's $6.5 million in off-the-field endorsements. And most impressively, it's the highest mark by an MLB player since former Yankees superstar Derek Jeter earned $9 million in endorsements from 2012-14.

"He's absolutely a priority,” said MLB chief marketing executive Karin Timpone. “As a strategy broadly, there are a host of players that have the ability to tell a story not just to the core fans who are into the season but somebody who wants to maybe watch or go to more games. He's definitely in that category of folks that we want to engage and reach out. And this is just the start with him actually."

Ohtani, 27, has a diverse portfolio of investments from both the United States and from his native Japan. Ohtani has partnered with more than 15 companies, including Hugo Boss, Asics, Fanatics, Panini, Seiko, Topps, Oakley, Descente, FTX, Kowa, Mitsubishi Bank and Salesforce. He's also appeared on the cover of non-sports magazines -- such as GQ and TIME -- and he was baseball's first athlete featured on the cover of TIME in almost 20 years.

He's also the cover athlete of Sony’s MLB The Show 22 video game, which was released earlier this month and was available on Nintendo Switch for the first time. Ohtani took part in an extensive photoshoot in January and filmed a commercial for the video game that features Ohtani speaking English.

"I think with Shohei, he made the decision for us," said Ramone Russell, brand strategist for MLB The Show and PlayStation. "He had the best season in MLB history, in our opinion. It was a no-brainer. It was the easiest cover decision we ever had to make. And he was super receptive after talking to his representation. One of his goals to was to be on the cover of MLB The Show, so it was icing on the cake."

Ohtani also is not just a partner with cryptocurrency exchange FTX but he also is serving as a global ambassador and is taking a stake in the company. MLB and FTX officially became partners in June and memorably debuted the FTX Moon Man mascot at the All-Star Game.

"There were a number of things that made Ohtani particularly interesting to us," said Zane Tackett, head of institutional sales for FTX. "There's simply the fact he's a generational talent that nobody has seen since Babe Ruth. And besides that, he's very young in his career and has room to grow and have a massive impact in baseball. And as it relates to Crypto, Japan is a huge market for Crypto and so is America, so he's able to straddle those two very large markets."

Ohtani was drawn to FTX because it also has a charity component, including the Moon Blast promotion that sees FTX donate to charity for home runs that travel more than 425 feet.

“He comes from a place of authenticity,” said Lou Frangella, vice president of partnerships at FTX. " He's unbelievable but he’s not satisfied. And that resonates with us because we're constantly improving and growing as a business.”

MLB has also built several marketing campaigns involving Ohtani, including a spot that exclusively featured Ohtani during last year’s All-Star Game and one that ran this year to celebrate Opening Day. The All-Star Game spot celebrated “Sho-Time,” while the Opening Day spot featured fellow stars Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto but Ohtani is the only player who has a speaking line in the spot. Ohtani says in English, "So, you in?" at the end of the spot to engage viewers and get them ready for the 2022 season. There are versions of the narration in different languages but it always ends with Ohtani’s line in English.

Timpone said Ohtani was chosen because his versatility both on and the field appeals to people, while there's a discovery aspect to him because even casual fans want to know more about him and what makes him so unique.

"It was just so great to have somebody with global stature kind of capping the story," Timpone said. "We translated the campaign into various languages. And he's done advertising in different languages, so it shows he shows up culturally relevant across the board. And it's appealing to us because our spot is definitely showing in markets around the world.”