Baseball Sponsors Escape Mitchell Taint

Most Players Implicated in Steroids Report Not Active Endorsers

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CHICAGO ( -- Former Sen. George Mitchell's report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball was widely expected to clock baseball -- and the marketers who use it to reach consumers -- like a Roger Clemens fastball. But the 409-page tome detailing what it called baseball's "steroids era" more closely resembles one of Mr. Clemens' patented brushback pitches.

The fact is that although a large number of players were implicated in the report, the vast majority of them are not active endorsers for product marketers. "This could have been much, much worse for them," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant who counts the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs as clients. "Even with 80-odd players named, most are either retired or at the end of their careers, and none of the real superstars are in there."

When asked about the report, the sport's biggest sponsors all but yawned. "We're committed to Major League Baseball and applaud its efforts to address the situation," said a spokesman for State Farm, which is entering the second year of a three-year sponsorship agreement.

'Not a new issue'
Likewise, baseball's biggest sponsor, General Motors Corp., remains in talks to renew a sponsorship deal that expired last season. "The Mitchell Report does not really have an impact on our talks," a GM spokeswoman said. "This is not a new issue for them."

Anheuser-Busch was one of the only major sponsors to express the slightest concern with the report. "It's critical that Major League Baseball and the (players union) work together to aggressively and decisively address this situation," said Tony Ponturo, A-B's VP-global media and sports marketing. "We will monitor the progress being made and have faith in both organizations to take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of the game."

Mr. Ganis noted that the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, baseball's biggest star and the most likely heir to accused steroid user Barry Bonds' tainted home-run record, was not named despite some speculation that he would be. Likewise, none of the sport's other most bankable stars -- including the Yankees' Derek Jeter, the New York Mets' David Wright, the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols, the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard -- were named.

"If the report had named the young guns who were the future of the game, it would have been a huge problem," said Wally Hayward, CEO of Relay Worldwide, a sports and sponsorship agency based in Chicago. "But it didn't, and that means this will all be just a big mark on a time period that's in the past." Mr. Hayward said he won't be steering any clients away from baseball as a result of the report.

Minor sponsorship players
None of the players in the report is central to any marketer's baseball efforts. The most surprising star named, Mr. Clemens, the 45-year-old Yankees pitcher, recently starred in a one-off ad for AT&T Wireless that stopped running in November, had a shoe deal with Adidas and did some work for a regional grocery-store chain. That's hardly a heavy endorsement load compared with other fallen sports stars, such as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, Nike's lead football talent for years before his recent prison sentence, or basketball megastar Kobe Bryant, who saw tens of millions in deals dry up for a time after a 2003 sexual-assault accusation (he was exonerated).

Most of the other active stars in the report, such as Mr. Bonds, the Yankees' Jason Giambi, the Detroit Tigers' Gary Sheffield and the Houston Astros' Miguel Tejada, have been named in enough published reports in the past four years to drastically reduce their endorsement opportunities as it is.

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Contributing: Andrew Hampp, Alice Z. Cuneo, Jean Halliday, Ira Teinowitz
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