Check Out MLB's Best Opening Day Marketing Stunt

Koufax Helps Fans Forget Team's Years of Bad Baseball, Mismanagement

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Sandy Koufax surprising fans
Sandy Koufax surprising fans Credit: LA Dodgers
The winner of Major League Baseball's best Opening Day marketing stunt goes to... the Los Angeles Dodgers, for their celebrity-filled video introducing surprise guest Sandy Koufax.

New part-owner Magic Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar, generated instant buzz for his club by recruiting the reclusive pitching legend to throw out the first pitch of the Dodgers' 4-0 victory over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

No sport does nostalgia and tradition as well as baseball. Mr. Johnson, a long-time athletic endorser on Madison Avenue, orchestrated Mr. Koufax's appearance with the kind of stage-management that would make Don Draper proud.

First, the Dodgers teased their home crowd with a video showing an All-Star team of Los Angeles sports legends and Hollywood celebrities tossing the ceremonial first pitch baseball to each other.

Among them: NBA superstars Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin; NHL legend Wayne Gretzky; singer Britney Spears; NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson; actors Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew Perry, Jessica Alba, Hillary Duff, Eric Stonestreet and Alyssa Milano; and Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney.

The ball finally landed in the hands of Mr. Johnson, who walked out of the dugout in person like he was going to throw out the first pitch. Not so fast. Don Mattingly, Dodgers manager and former New York Yankees star, came out to the mound, signaling for a lefty reliever.

In came the 77-year old Mr. Koufax, the baseball Hall of Famer who began his Dodgers career in his hometown of Brooklyn but achieved his greatest fame in Los Angeles. One of the greatest Jewish athletes ever, Koufax won three Cy Young awards, threw four no-hitters and was named World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965. Mr. Koufax is serving as a special advisor to the new owners.

Dodgers spokesman Joe Jareck said the Koufax event was in the works for months. A Dodgers PR staffer came up with the idea of passing a baseball around before Opening Day, similar to the Olympic torch being carried before the opening of an Olympic Games.

Then the team's marketing reps fanned out around Los Angeles, recruiting celebrities to appear in the video. The mini-movie reinforced the club's new advertising theme for the 2013 season: "A whole new blue."

The Dodgers can use some positive buzz after years of losing baseball, mismanagement and bad publicity. Former owner Frank McCourt turned off many long-time fans and loyalists with his penny-pinching ways. The new ownership group (who stunned the sports world by buying the club for an eye-popping $2 billion in 2012), have been working hard to repair the team' tattered image and win back fans and sponsors.

The new owners have poured $100 million into improving facilities, scoreboards and video screens at the aging Dodger Stadium. They're playing up the club's storied history in Brooklyn and Los Angeles in all of their marketing strategies this season. "There's no question we're embracing our history -- and embracing the brand," Mr. Jareck said.

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