Would You Buy a Mercedes From Alex Rodriguez?
Would you buy a $50,000 luxury car from Alex Rodriguez?
That's the challenge facing Alex Rodriguez Mercedes-Benz, a Houston-area luxury dealership named for the New York Yankees superstar slammed with a 211-game ban by Major League Baseball due to his involvement with anti-aging clinic Biogeneis.
Baseball's highest-paid player owns about "half" of Alex Rodriguez Mercedes-Benz in League City, Texas, confirmed Donna Boland, a spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz USA.
Could the dealership change its name now that Mr. Rodriguez has taken over from Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds as the face of baseball's doping era? "That's up to A-Rod and his partner," said Ms. Boland via email.
Garrick Hatfield, general manager of Alex Rodriguez Mercedes-Benz, did not return several calls seeking comment.
But right now, Mr. Rodriguez's name doesn't seem to inspire much confidence. During a game against the Chicago White Sox Monday night, he was loudly booed by White Sox fans chanting "steroids." MLB also suspended a dozen other players for their links to the Biogenesis scandal.
Beyond the name, the dealership does not go out of its way to advertise its connection with Mr. Rodriguez on its website. Under the "About Alex Rodriguez" section, the site talks about its vision to serve clients, its inventory of new, pre-owned and commercial Mercedes-Benz vehicles and its "world-class" concierge lounge.
The closest the dealership comes to a baseball reference is its "All-Star Club," which offers rewards for the most-loyal clients.
That's a change from the optimistic tone of the 2004 press release that announced Mr. Rodriguez was joining the Mercedes-Benz "team" in Houston.
"I've always been a fan of Mercedes-Benz," Mr. Rodriguez said in the statement, dated June 3, 2004. "I've owned several and, to me, they're the best automobiles in the world. I've been very fortunate with my success in baseball, but you always want to be looking down the road, planning how you stay at the top of the game whether it's sports or business -- or both. This dealership is going to be the cornerstone of my professional future."
On the factory side, Mercedes-Benz USA sees no need to separate itself from Mr. Rodriguez, according to Ms. Boland.
"We never promoted the fact that A-Rod owned a dealership, so there's really nothing to 'distance' ourselves from. And since his activity is not illegal but rather prohibited by MLB, there's nothing actionable here," she said.
After being outed as a PED user by reporter Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated, Mr. Rodriguez publicly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in 2009.
He said he used PED's during his 3-season run with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003 to help live up to the pressure of his record 10-year, $252 million contract with the club. But Mr Rodriguez claimed he stopped using them once he joined the Yankees in 2004.
Despite leading the Yankees to a 2009 World Series title, Mr. Rodriguez is virtually invisible on Madison Ave. as an athletic endorser compared to teammate Derek Jeter.
Coconut-water brand Vita Coco used him in an ad campaign in the summer of 2011. But the three-time American League MVP has not appeared any of the brand's advertising or marketing since then, according to a company spokesman.
Mr. Rodriguez was also an investor one point in rival Zico. But that relationship went south when Zico learned he was also in business with Vita Coco. Mr. Rodriguez is not currently an investor, said a Zico spokesman.
After joining the Yanks, Mr. Rodriguez appeared in a Pepsi TV spot from BBDO, New York in which he and fellow slugger Vladimir Guerrero meet on a moonlit field and bash balls until they shatter the moon. "Run," yelps A-Rod, who pauses for a moment to retrieve the can of Pepsi.
Slated to earn $28 million this season, Mr. Rodriquez will continue to play for the Yanks while he appeals his ban from MLB. Even if Mr. Rodriguez's endorsement prospects seem to be slim and none, he still draws boffo TV ratings.
Monday's night's Yankees-White Sox game from Chicago on YES Network averaged 339,000 viewers and a 4.34 household rating in the New York market. That made it the highest-rated Yankees telecast this season, according to spokesman Eric Handler, topping the 4.16 rating for the Yankees vs. their Subway Series rival New York Mets on May 27.