With Some Advertisers Out, New York Mets Try Tech to Attract New Sponsor Dollars

Xerox, Duane Reade and Caesar's Are no Longer Sponsors of the Baseball Club

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Two billboards near the home ballpark of the New York Mets that plea for the team's current owners to sell the baseball club are garnering a lot of attention. But what the team wants passersby to notice is its own massive, new billboard. Perched in a parking area at Citi Field and viewable from the Whitestone Expressway, the 54' by 40' behemoth stands 90' high and is one of several new ad opportunities the team expects to generate additional revenue this season.

The billboard space, available for $15,000 per-side for a four-week period through Mets partner Clear Channel, along with a new sponsored tech-centric suite and LED signs in the stadium should reap millions in sponsor revenue for the team in 2015.

The two other billboards, paid for by a fan and his Kickstarter campaign, are only bringing the Mets organization grief. They reference Mets team owners Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz, pleading for them to "Sell the Team."

Along with 40 new mobile tracking beacons to be installed throughout the stadium and a trial of a new mobile app feature, the offerings serve as indications of the team's willingness to innovate. Team execs say they want the Mets to be leaders in tech adoption, which they expect will attract more sponsorship cash. Being a New York market team makes the Mets an appealing partner for tech firms to showcase and test their wares.

"We're trying to get the Burger Kings and the McDonald's to think of us as more digital," said Wes Engram, VP-corporate sponsorships for the Mets.

A series of three LED "ribbon" panels placed along left field where static signs once were has generated 300% more revenue than the fixed ad images seen there last season, said Mr. Engram. "The board has already paid for itself in a year."

Sold in half-inning increments, each of the three signs stands to generate between $2 million and $2.5 million this season. New York Lottery and Delta Airlines logos were visible in LED form to a near-capacity crowd at a recent game the Mets won against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Another new place for a sponsor message: the K Board. Stationed above the third-base line, the sign lights up a letter "K" each time a Mets pitcher strikes out a hitter; in baseball scoring, a "K" symbolizes a strikeout. According to a Mets spokesperson, K-Cup coffee purveyor Keurig expressed interest in branding the sign, but in the end H&R Block has naming rights.

A tech-centric suite sponsored by Choice Solutions, an IT consulting firm, represents "the largest piece of new business" for the team in terms of sponsorships, according to Lou De Paoli, exec VP and chief revenue officer for the New York Mets. Used by the team itself on some days to entertain clients, the suite features Apple TVs, and highlights MLB.tv and other Major League Baseball tech and media offerings.

But fans shouldn't expect that additional revenue to flow towards player payroll anytime soon. The team first must make up for money lost from sponsors who left. Drugstore chain Duane Reade, Xerox and casino proprietor Caesar's -- which has branded one of the premium seating-level clubs since Citi Field opened in 2009 -- have all left the Mets this season. Caesar's is going through bankruptcy, and during that process the Mets are maintaining the company's branding at the club and on tickets.

"We had to make up for a big hole," said Mr. De Paoli.

The team will add 40 additional beacon devices throughout the stadium, bringing the total to 60 of the tracking devices by May 1. The small trackers pick up on Bluetooth signals from mobile phones and can push out sponsor messages or discount offers to fans who have downloaded MLB's At the Ballpark app and checked in at the stadium. The team plans to offer a deal on athletic gear from Majestic soon via a push notification prompted by the beacons. They'll be placed at various points of interest throughout the stadium, such as the beloved Shake Shack hamburger stand and near entrances to the New York City Subway 7 train.

Mets sponsor Old Dominion Freight Line, which offers moving and shipping services, is funding the additional beacons.

Citi Field was among the early adopters of beacons among MLB teams, piloting the trackers for the 2014 season. The team will also serve as guinea pigs for the Satisfi platform which allows people to get assistance from customer service or security through the At the Balllpark app.

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