BASEBALL STARTS WITHOUT NEW MARKETING SLUGGER:VACANCY FAILS TO STOP LOWE'S AD CAMPAIGN, SMTI'S EFFORTS TO SIGN SPONSORS

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Major League Baseball begins its 1996 season this week with pinch-hitters in its marketing lineup, but heavy-hitting leadership may soon be joining the team.

While MLB hunts for a top marketing officer, Sports Marketing & Television International is handling sponsorship and has already signed several marketers to buy more than $50 million in ad time during MLB broadcasts on Fox and NBC.

$2 MILLION CAMPAIGN

MLB's new agency of record, Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, broke the first phase of a $2 million-plus consumer campaign, tagged "What a game," March 29 with an ad in USA Today. TV and radio spots hit in mid-April.

"The purpose of the print is to celebrate Opening Day," said Lee Garfinkel, Lowe vice chairman-chief creative officer.

MLB still faces challenges. Owners don't yet have a collective bargaining agreement with players; many teams are still trying to make amends for the labor dispute that ended the 1994 season in midstride.

MLB owners hope to have someone to handle sponsorship sales and marketing within the month. They have held talks with Mark Goldston, a former L.A. Gear president and now president of Goldston Group, a consultancy that works with Converse and No Fear.

MLB also is said to have approached Chuck Fruit, VP-director, media and presence marketing, for Coca-Cola Co., and is said to be looking at David Ropes, leaving as senior VP-strategic marketing at Reebok International (see story on Page 4). Mr. Ropes said he hasn't been approached.

SMTI has renewed sponsorship agreements with Borden, Coca-Cola, Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade, Gillette Co., MCI Communications Corp. and Sherwin-Williams Co.

WINDOWS OF EXCLUSIVITY

In some categories, such as quick service and fast-food, SMTI and its TV partners are offering windows of sponsorship exclusivity instead of seasonlong exclusive pacts offered by other leagues.

For example, Fox and MLB will soon announce a multimillion-dollar deal with 7-Eleven stores for a summertime promotion. Discussions with Pizza Hut about a post-season promotion are being discussed.

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