The surprise move once again leaves baseball, finally experiencing a resurgence this year after a four-year slump, searching for a top marketing officer.
A popular consensus-builder who successfully negotiated MLB's tricky internal politics to get baseball's marketing back on track, Mr. Gamgort stunned league staffers last week with the news. Paul Beeston, the league's chief operating officer, is charged with finding a replacement.
As exec VP-marketing at M&M/Mars, Mr. Gamgort fills a slot vacant since Paul Michaels was promoted eight months ago to chief operating officer.
Mr. Gamgort was lured to baseball in early 1997 by former MLB Enterprises CEO Greg Murphy, with whom he had worked at what was then Kraft Foods Bakery Cos.; Mr. Gamgort was VP-general manager of the Lender's bagel division.
"He's a great guy, classically trained," said M&M/Mars' Mr. Michaels. "And his food industry experience didn't hurt."
"I've been at a crossroads in my career and I had to make a decision whether to stay in the world of sports or go back to consumer products," said Mr. Gamgort, 35. "What appeals to me about [a consumer products] environment is that the decisionmaking process is more streamlined. You have the ability to make more of a difference."
Mr. Gamgort played a key role in the resurgence of baseball, helping to eradicate memories of a 1994 strike that alienated many fans.
Interleague play, assaults on Roger Maris' home-run record and the dominance of the New York Yankees have boosted attendance and ratings, and generated media buzz this year. Behind the scenes, Mr. Gamgort improved the licensing business and attracted sponsors such as Hershey Foods Corp.'s Twizzlers, MasterCard International and Nabisco's Bubble Yum brand.
A revamped ad strategy has met with mixed success among clubs. Unclear is the future of the league's relationship with Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, which has maintained ties to MLB despite a decreased role in 1998.
Insiders said it's likely MLB will look inside baseball and outside the sports world for a replacement. One could be Chief Information Officer Jim Masterson, also recruited by Mr. Murphy from Kraft; he already plays a key role on MLB's advertising committee.
Mr. Gamgort said he believes the change in leadership shouldn't concern marketers. "Anybody involved currently in baseball, I would say, without hesitation, is in it at the right time."
NEW ASSAULTS READIED
Mr. Gamgort joins Mars as it prepares a $60 million ad assault to launch M&M's Crispy later this year. The candymaker is also working feverishly on a major repositioning of Milky Way for next year with new ads and packaging. "We've made some major strides. What we need to do is get to the next level," Mr. Michaels said.
Mr. Gamgort will work with BBDO Worldwide, New York, which handles Snickers and M&M's; Grey Advertising for Starburst; UniWorld Group for Three Musketeers; and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, for Milky Way and Twix.