MLB Scores a Home Run in Standing Up for What’s Right

They made the difficult but right decision

Inspiration meets innovation at Brandweek, the ultimate marketing experience. Join industry luminaries, rising talent and strategic experts in Phoenix, Arizona this September 23–26 to assess challenges, develop solutions and create new pathways for growth. Register early to save.

MLB walks out onto the field and steps up to the plate—bringing the brand up to bat, the swing we’ve all been waiting for to come and hit it out of the park. Its decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta on the heels of new legislation proposed to suppress voters in Georgia has been heated and met with inflammatory rhetoric. This is about more than a baseball game. Voter suppression is akin to taking issue with any other cause that in every way disenfranchises and seeks to limit and ultimately remove rights afforded to all.  

For the better part of a year now, we’ve seen brands post white text on black boxes, issue their pre-crafted crisis responses, tell us they won’t stand for injustice and then fast follow with a template-ized commitment to check themselves and hold a degree of accountability to do better. From support for the Black Lives Matter movement to the recent Stop AAPI Hate campaign, every brand wants to be part of the conversation, making it clear to everyone from employees to customers to shareholders that they are a brand that will not stand for discrimination, violence or inequality. But to not stand for it and to take a stand are two very different things.

Since when did doing what is right become a matter of taking sides and playing partisan games? This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a sports league put their money where their mouth is and stand tall in the face of discrimination. In 2016, the NBA chose to move the All-Star game out of Charlotte, N.C., over transgender bathroom legislation. This comment from MLB states it best: “We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

They made the difficult but right decision. It creates an extraordinary burden of finding a new host city and the production involved in that, plus negative publicity, outrage from some fans, disappointment for the city of Atlanta and the negative impact on that economy. This is advocacy in action. Like a private citizen, a business is within their right to use their voice, their platform and their dollars to do what they believe is right. It’s not uncommon to hear the roar of indignation “just play sports” rattle from politicians and everyday citizens alike, in an attempt to suppress and invalidate the voices of the leagues and players (let’s remember they are human beings) seeking to use their platform to drive positive change and draw awareness to issues that need support.  

Standing up for what you believe in—even when and especially when it’s hard—is how real change happens. When we cower in the face of controversy, we perpetuate injustice, and until we get comfortable being uncomfortable in confronting what isn’t right, we will continue to come up against these difficult and all too common decision points. No one questions the complicated nature of balancing accountability to every stakeholder: from the street to the board to the fans to the players and the partners. It’s not about doing what’s easy; it’s about doing what’s fair and what’s right. If you are a brand that is committed to standing up for what is right, then stand up. Make the hard call, if it’s the right call. Will there be backlash? Absolutely. Will you preserve the long-term integrity of your brand? Absolutely. 

If you didn’t know what MLB stood for before, you do now. Any short-term inflammatory rhetoric will fizzle as fast as it was ignited. This is a proof point in standing for what you believe in and not backing down when things get tough.

Baseball will go on. No one is going to stop cheering for their team, watching the game or walking away from the sport altogether. As a business and brand, MLB won’t fall to the wayside; if anything, it’ll get stronger in time if it’s consistent in doubling down on being a brand that stands for something.