GM, OTHERS TO COVER ALL THE BASES IN LINK WITH DOCUMENTARY

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The producers and supporters of "Baseball" are pursuing a marketing field of dreams.

General Motors Corp, for one, plans to heavily leverage its sponsoship of the documentary. With an educational outreach program, local promotional tie-ins and a series of magazine ads, the automaker is hoping to build the audience as well as enhance its corporate image through association with Ken Burns, the series' producer, director, co-writer and executive producer.

Mr. Burns also is looking for a marketing hit, with a book to be published by Alfred A. Knopf; a licensing agreement for historical trading cards with Upper Deck; and caps, jerseys, mugs and other "Baseball"-related merchandise to be sold through catalogs that GM will make available to its dealers. The documentary's marketing campaign also includes a home video and CD. And next spring, additional themed products will be available at such retailers as Bloomingdale's, J.C. Penney Co., Target Stores and Wal-Mart Stores.

As part of its sponsorship, GM also will get billboard credits, with the nine episodes presented as a "General Motors Mark of Excellence Presentation." The series begins Sept. 18.

"The PBS audience is largely made up of thought leaders and peer-group influencers," says Luana Floccuzio, director-advertising for GM's North American Operations. "We can't communicate directly about our products, but we can communicate our association with Ken's work." In addition to getting support from GM, the reported $7 million project received funding from private foundations, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.

N W Ayer, Detroit, GM's corporate agency, has coordinated the automaker's participation. Its role includes creating ads running in Life, U.S. News and World Report, The Atlantic and Entertainment Weekly. To further promote "Baseball," GM also:

Underwrote a 30-minute PBS show, "The Making of `Baseball,"' an inside look at Mr. Burns' 3*1/2-year project, and it supported nine five-minute preview programs being distributed by National Public Radio.

Participated in Mr. Burns' publicity tour this summer.

Commissioned Lifetime Learning Systems to develop educational materials being distributed to more than 40,000 schools. The program uses baseball as a springboard for lessons in history, geography, language arts, math, science, social studies and physical education.

Sponsored an essay contest, awarding 50 students $1,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bonds and recognizing them in the September issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids.

The association with the series also ties in neatly with GM's longtime baseball promotions. GM is the exclusive domestic auto sponsor of The Baseball Network telecasts, and its Chevrolet division has several promotions tied to the sport, including sponsorship of the World Series Most Valuable Player award.

"Baseball" originally was scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of pennant races and as a lead-in to the post-season playoffs and World Series.

"It's hard to really know what impact the strike will have on the series," Ms. Floccuzio says.

One theory is baseball-hungry fans will tune in. But there's also the possibility that anger over the strike will cool enthusiasm for anything connected to the sport. That's something GM and Mr. Burns' other supporters are betting won't happen.

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