NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With the first crack of the bat in a Major League Baseball game this spring comes an opportunity for the fledging MLB Network to grow its audience. It will come as small surprise, then, that the infant cable outlet will launch an ad campaign designed to bring fans of what has long been known as the national pastime to its specific roost in the cable box.
|MLB Network will run a Thursday front-page 'strip' in the first quarter of USA Today. (click to see full ad)|
Timed to ramp up in mid-March, the MLB Network is targeting baseball fans, general sports fans and men between the ages of 18 and 54, and the campaign effort will attempt to drum home the message that the channel is for everyone who has an interest in baseball, not just armchair pitchers.
"Baseball isn't necessarily for the hard-core sports fan. It's really part of the fabric of our society, it fits in with Americana," said Mary Beck, senior VP-marketing and promotion, MLB Network. "So you can reach out to a broader group that's in it for the historical aspect, [or] fantasy players."
Standing out among competition
There's a vast potential audience for baseball to tap, but there's lots of competition for it as well. ESPN has its "Baseball Tonight" franchise, for one, and many local broadcasters have secured rights to televise their home teams in action. While MLB Network is already being distributed in around 50 million cable and satellite homes, it doesn't have a monopoly on baseball coverage. So the ad campaign could be crucial in spurring fans to identify the channel as a source of information on one of their favorite topics.
Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson created the effort for MLB, and MediaStorm handled the ad buys.
Executives have said they hope viewers will understand the channel can supplement their viewing on other networks. Already, MLB Network has been showing World Baseball Classic games and has been running "30 Clubs in 30 Days," an hour-long series that takes individual looks at each MLB club, including on-site reporting.
National and local buys
The network is buying up local and national ad opportunities, running local spots in Major League Baseball's top 20 markets across multiple cable channels and regional sports networks. It plans to build an online presence on sports-related websites such as Yahoo, SI.com, ESPN.com and Sportsline.com. And the network will run a Thursday front-page "strip" in the first quarter of USA Today, along with Baseball Digest and USA Today Sports Weekly insertions.
The channel is also drilling down, using its MLB connections to get the word out in local fashion. At spring-training games, various teams will be loading up ads on video boards. Ads for MLB Network will also appear in various club yearbooks and game-day publications, said Ms. Beck.
There are other reasons to roll out an ad campaign. While MLB Network is predominantly owned by Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs, cable and satellite providers DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox also have an ownership stake. Healthy viewership will also reward the big corporations distributing the channel around the country.