Masters, baseball flaps zap magic

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The sour economy and heightened sensitivity about responsible spending in an era of corporate scandals are putting the hurt on sports marketing.

"Waiting lists of corporate sponsors lining up to slap their names on stadiums and become title sponsor of new events have gone away," says Tim Schneider, publisher of Sports Travel, which targets team owners, organizers and municipalities that stage games and tournaments.

Major league sports mostly are holding onto their key sponsors, as are grassroots and extreme sports events that offer broad reach at low costs. But regional and lower-level golf tournaments including the Senior PGA Tour, emerging sports and some midsize leagues are struggling, say sports marketing experts.

An arrogant attitude from corners of the sporting world isn't helping matters any, says Craig Tartasky, president of Vertical Sports & Entertainment, a sports consultancy in Bethesda, Md.

Referring to a gender discrimination flap at Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club that led to 2003 Masters golf tournament sponsors scrambling for cover and the acrimonious players union-owners set-to during the Major League Baseball season, Mr. Tartasky warns sports marketing could lose a lot of its muscle without a major attitude adjustment.

taking magic away from game

"While money is getting tight for everyone, fights between billionaire owners and millionaire players are taking the magic away from sports," he says. "There is no guarantee that a new generation of fans will buy into sports if current trends continue."

Observers expect William "Hootie" Johnson, Augusta's chairman, to begin admitting a few women to the club next year, an indirect bow to pressure from groups, including the National Council of Women's Organizations, that noisily criticized the club's men-only membership policy this year. Instead of changing the policy, Mr. Johnson unilaterally released all sponsors from the 2003 Masters tournament, to be broadcast on Viacom's CBS-TV.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Augusta will yield, eventually, but not in time for 2003," says Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, New York.

Masters sponsors Coca-Cola Co., IBM Corp. and Citigroup apparently haven't been tarnished by the brouhaha, but sponsors must be wary of associating with non-inclusive sports organizations in today's more politically sensitive atmosphere, he says.

Corporate hospitality-a major contributor to sports marketing's bottom line in which corporations pay for premium access to high-profile sports events-also has taken a hit in this era of carefully scrutinized spending, Mr. Schneider says. What's thriving is the concept of value-added sponsorships, where hefty doses of PR and media exposure accompany a marketer's sponsorship agreement.

Ford Motor Co. recently inked its first player endorsement in golf, signing Phil Mickelson as its spokesman in a PR-fueled deal put together by the Irvine, Calif.-based sports marketing division of Hill & Knowlton and J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit. The effort was coordinated by BrandStruck, a new joint venture between the two WPP Group-owned shops. Its mission is to integrate various ground-level marketing and PR efforts with ad campaigns, says John Eckel, senior managing partner at Hill & Knowlton. "BrandStruck exists to make sure PR and grassroots marketing are there at the start instead of trying to fit in after the ad campaign is decided," Mr. Eckel says.

Other examples of joint sports marketing efforts between the two agencies include sponsorship of a women's mountain climbing team as part of Ford's "No Boundaries" ad campaign, as well as for various Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. promotions.


"The line between sports and entertainment is blurring, and in this era marketers are eager to get extra mileage out of a $200,000 PR sports marketing promotion vs. spending $5 million on pure TV media," says Mr. Eckel. "It doesn't mean they're cutting budgets-they're using budgets to reach more people through more channels."

Despite the economic downturn, the National Basketball Association recently renewed several long-term marketing partnerships and added several first-time sponsors, thanks to enriched media packages.

"Marketers are not pulling back on spending, but they're asking for more," says Jonathan Press, NBA VP-marketing partnerships. AT&T Corp., Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite, PepsiCo's Gatorade, and Dairy Management and the National Fluid Milk Processor Board are among sponsors that recently renewed. First-timers include Adidas, Lego Co. and credit card giant MBNA Corp. "Marketing tie-ins used to be solely about the game," Mr. Press says. "Now it's more about overall assets and marketing channels."

Major League Baseball's flirtation this season with a players strike could have wreaked havoc on MasterCard International, whose "Memorable Moments" promotion culminated with the World Series.

MasterCard says it remains committed to MLB. The marketer plans to increase its baseball tie-ins next year, including expanding internationally to reach fans of Mexican, Japanese and Korean baseball, says Bob Cramer, MasterCard's VP-global sponsorship and event marketing.

Many midsize sporting events will be starved for sponsorship dollars, says Mark Dowley, chairman-CEO of New York-based Interpublic Sports & Entertainment Group, recently formed by Interpublic Group of Cos.

"These will be challenging times for middle-level events like the Senior PGA Tour, soccer and new sports," he says, adding that sponsors need to realize that "they must spend two to four times the cost of the sponsorship rights fees to make the event click on multiple levels, [but] small-scale sponsor- ships can still be powerful marketing tools."

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