Major League Baseball Should Have an Asian Heritage Month
And They Should Hire a White Guy (Me) to Design It
Major League Baseball has held a Hispanic Heritage Month every season for the past several years, and during that time many teams in the league trot out special edition jerseys with their team name rendered in Spanish.
Several teams take this occasion as a chance to have a bit of fun with their branding and create some really great jerseys while conversely, most teams simply opt to add “los” to the front of their normal team jersey and call it a day. Sure, I’m slightly offended at their slight display of cultural insensitivity. But as a designer, I’m even more offended at their incredibly lazy design sensibilities.
Since this program is such a fantastic way to reach new Hispanic fans, I think it’s time Major League Baseball start taking a similar approach to court the Asian fanbase that are just as energetic about the game as those in Latin America. Which is why I propose a new heritage program that celebrates the legacy of players and fans from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China…
Asian Heritage Month
Teams will wear jerseys with their usual home or road scripts rendered in one of three languages — Japanese, Korean, or Chinese — depending on either their roster or fan demographics. For instance, San Francisco has a very large Chinese population, so it might make sense for them to wear this:
And the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees have rostered some of the most famous Japanese players to ever appear in the Major Leagues and thus have very large followings in Japan, so wearing these might be appropriate:
So, why just those four countries to represent an entire diverse continent? Where Hispanic Heritage Month can more easily represent a number of diverse countries because they all share a common language, Asian Heritage Month does not have that luxury. However, when you look at the data it becomes clear which countries in Asia have the closest ties to MLB and to the sport itself.
The breakdown of Asian players in MLB, all-time, looks like this:
The top three countries also have the largest professional baseball leagues in Asia — Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan), Korean Baseball Organization League (South Korea), and Chinese Professional Baseball League (Taiwan) — so not only are they sending more players to the Majors than any other countries in Asia, they also have what we can assume are the largest and most knowledgeable fanbases of baseball, making them the best and most logical countries to initially focus on for Asian Heritage Month.
According to the unofficial 2014 MLB census, despite comprising only 2% of MLB, Asian players on average earn $6.6m, which is highest in the league. Of course that’s skewed a bit with small sample sizes and the exorbitant contracts established Asian players tend to receive, without even factoring in the high posting fees MLB teams pay for just the chance to negotiate a contract. Which is to say, there’s an incredible amount of money invested in Asian players. So you’d think with all that money spent, MLB would want to tap into the so-far relatively untapped earning potential to be found in the foreign Asian market.
When Asian players sign with MLB teams, they bring with them an entirely new audience, and of course, new revenue streams. From Asian brands buying up stadium ad space, to Asian food brands being sold in stadiums, to new broadcast deals overseas. For instance, in Los Angeles, the Dodgers introduced a Korean audio feed for fans in South Korea who wanted to follow star pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu.
One could easily see how a jersey with Japanese, Korean, or Chinese characters would stand out in America, but would they really be all that unique in Asia? Surprisingly — yes.
Quick history lesson — from the mid 17th century for a period of roughly two hundred years, Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world until finally opening themselves to western culture in the mid-1800s. Once open, the Japanese became increasingly fascinated with American culture and more specifically, the English language, which is partly why major companies like Toyota and others embrace the English spelling of their names rather than traditional Japanese.
When baseball began flourishing in Eastern Asia around WWII, traveling teams decided it was better to wear jerseys that spelled out their team names in English so when they traveled to play teams in America the fans could read their jerseys. So from then on, most national and pro league teams in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have kept that tradition alive by rendering their team names in English.
The Hispanic Heritage Month jerseys are partly great because we can still kinda read them, even if we don’t speak Spanish. They’re different, yet familiar. But these Asian Heritage Month jerseys are so wildly different — like, other side of the world different — yet they’re all still immediately familiar.
Who would have guessed that a trio of seemingly indecipherable red characters, when set upon blue pinstripes with a thick blue outline, becomes instantly recognizable as a Chicago Cubs jersey:
Or that some unfamiliar red characters set upon red pinstripes, accompanied by a blue star can still totally feel like a Philadelphia Phillies jersey:
American fans would wear them because they’re fun and different, yet they’d still fit in with all the other fans at the stadium. Asian fans would wear them because an officially licensed MLB jersey with team names rendered in Asian characters would be a rare, first-of-its-kind item that almost literally speaks directly to them and their country’s culture. All-in-all a great way for MLB to not only reach out to a new continent of eager and knowledgeable fans, but also drive some revenue in the process.
To view the entire collection of Asian Heritage Month jerseys and t-shirts, plus several more from teams I didn’t show in this article, follow the link below.
A new heritage program that celebrates the legacy of players and fans from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.www.jessealkire.com
Also, many of these designs are now available for a limited time as t-shirts. Click below to reserve yours now, more teams are always being added.