The business of being David Ortiz was flourishing before his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Now, it’s boom time.
Since the announcement in January, Ortiz’s appearance and signing fees have jumped 20 to 35 percent, his list of regional and national endorsement partners has grown to 10, his licensing deals to eight, and he has a long-term contract with Fox Sports and Fox Bet that ensures Big Papi’s booming laugh, sartorial flair, and baseball insights will be seen and heard from coast to coast, especially in New England, for years to come.
“It’s a validation, a first-ballot Hall of Famer — rhetorically, what better description can one give that’s better than that?” said Alex Radetsky, president of Radegen, the sports and entertainment agency he founded, with Ortiz as one of his first two clients, in 2010. “Now it’s just up to David on how much he wants to do. He could continue at a very high level of being front and center like Charles Barkley and Shaq [O’Neal] are in the NBA, and some NFL names. He’ll have to work, but the opportunities will be there.”
Ortiz earned a little more than $160 million in salary in his 20-season major league career. Calculating his earnings as a pitchman and celebrity is more difficult because of companies keeping such deals private and the fluctuation of equity stakes.
But considering Ortiz has had a national profile for at least 18 years, thanks to three World Series titles with the Red Sox, MVP awards in the World Series and the ALCS, the Boston Marathon speech, and multiple spoofs on “Saturday Night Live” by Kenan Thompson, a responsible estimate would be in the high eight figures, possibly even low nine figures.
Unlike most players, even the best, Ortiz’s off-field earning power hasn’t plateaued in the six years since he played his final game.
Yes, there was a pause on the commercial front three years ago after Ortiz nearly died in a shooting in the Dominican Republic. Even with some unanswered questions surrounding the incident, Ortiz’s public perception has remained sympathetic.
And with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred stepping in to assure the public and enough BBWAA voters that Ortiz’s 2003 positive test for performance-enhancing drugs could have been a false positive, Ortiz cleared, on his first attempt, the remaining hurdle to baseball immortality.
Combined with Ortiz’s infectious personality, and of course his production on the field, his staying power as a bankable personality is remarkable.
Bobby D’Angelo, vice president at ‘47 Brand, one of the licensers of Ortiz apparel (Fanatics is another), said Ortiz is “by far” the biggest-selling Red Sox name, ahead of Ted Williams.
“He’s relevant because he’s still visible. He’s on commercials, he’s on this, he’s on that,” said D’Angelo. “David Ortiz represents winning World Series, and people have a good feeling for David Ortiz. We keep selling Ortiz because, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Red Sox current-day players that are relevant, as crazy as that sounds.
“Xander [Bogaerts] is a good player but not a big deal as far as selling, and [Rafael] Devers, he’s good but he’s not great [in sales]. The good thing about old-time players is that they’re already retired. Am I supposed to invest in Xander Bogaerts now, is he going to be on the team next year? Nobody knows. So, we help boost Ortiz’s popularity because we carry his merchandise. We make sure that he’s still relevant, because we need to sell somebody.”
There was a bump in Ortiz sales right after January’s announcement, and there will be another bump this weekend when Ortiz is inducted, said D’Angelo.
“This will re-instill vigor in his name, so we’re riding this Ortiz thing,” said D’Angelo. “I mean, we’re not going gangbusters, but we think it’s going to be good.”
Radetsky said that on the merchandising, memorabilia, and licensing front, many of Ortiz’s deals had been timed to expire at the end of 2021, before the Hall of Fame results were known. Talks with potential brand partners took place in the months leading up to the announcement but decisions were put off.
“If I had a dollar for every time I, or my team and I, would say to people, ‘If David is lucky enough, or fortunate enough to be elected, then this and that,’ ” said Radetsky. “We didn’t want to jinx it and we didn’t want to be cocky about it because nobody knew. We were saying this for six or nine months, literally talking to companies in advance. And then, once it happened, it triggered the, ‘OK, here we go.’ ”
On the endorsement front alone, Ortiz is pitching for 10 companies: Mastercard, Dunkin’, Zenni Optical, FTX, loanDepot, eternalHealth, Eastern Bank, DIRECTV, WhistlePig, and Famous Ink.
Ortiz has cut a commercial for eternalHealth, a Massachusetts-based health-care company geared toward people who are Medicare-eligible. Ortiz is 46, and eternalHealth’s founder and CEO, Pooja Ika, is 25 and was in second grade in Southborough when Ortiz helped the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004.
By the time Ika founded eternalHealth while still in college in 2019, she had targeted Ortiz as the licensing of her company.
“I knew that I wanted David,” said Ika. “I know that he wasn’t Medicare-eligible, I knew he wasn’t 65 and fit the consumer-like description, but I knew how loved he was across the state and I also knew that he was someone people really trusted, someone who people loved because of how friendly he was.”
Ortiz resonates with people, and that keeps him in demand with businesses.
He didn’t have to sell many people on his Hall of Fame credentials, but an awful lot of visitors to Cooperstown in the decades to come will recognize the face on that plaque from seeing it on an advertisement as opposed to a baseball diamond.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.