Major League Baseball goes to bat for Authentic apparel

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Want the shirt off Ken Griffey Jr.'s back? Major League Baseball hopes so; the league pushes its authentic apparel line in a multimillion-dollar ad splash.

The organization debuts at the end of March an integrated campaign to promote its MLB Authentic Collection apparel line. The effort centers on close-up visuals of team uniforms, hats and jackets. Cropped shots highlight the quality embroidery around a team's name, while copy urges consumers to "wear what the players wear."


The Authentic Collection is unique in that the products are identical to what players wear on the field, MLB Group Licensing Director Steve Armus said. "We found in research that consumers want what's authentic -- not replicas of what the players have," he added.

MLB worked with the Lord Group, New York, to produce team-specific advertising for each of its 30 clubs. The print ad for New York Mets-branded apparel, for example, says "Straphanging on the 7" in reference to the subway train fans ride to the team's Shea Stadium. MLB also will create advertising to tie in with newsbreaking events during the season -- such as a player trade.

The effort marks MLB's largest-ever promotion behind its consumer products line. In the past, "Baseball in general didn't do a good job in communicating that consumers could buy and wear what the players wore on the field," Mr. Armus said.

Print, including buys in Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN the Magazine; TV; radio; outdoor; and Internet components will support the line, previously marketed under the Authentic Diamond Collection banner.


The advertising directs consumers to retail outlets -- such as the Sports Authority and Champs Sports -- that sell the authentic MLB merchandise

"We've crafted a very good advertising plan, but the important thing is how this ties back to retail," Mr. Armus said. "We're not interested in winning a Clio award. We're interested in promoting our merchandise."

The Authentic Collection apparel is manufactured by licensees including New Era Cap, Majestic, Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. and Russell Athletics.

Ads -- themed "How close to the game are you?" -- are targeted to 12-to-34-year-old males and will run throughout the baseball season.

Lord Group Executive Creative Director Tony Kobylinski noted, "The real hard-core fans know the difference between a silk screen T-shirt and an embroidered one."

Mr. Kobylinski emphasized that the Lord Group creative team fell into that "hard-core" denomination. His creative partner, Jim Ritterhoff was quick to jump in with proof: He named his son Cal after Baltimore Orioles baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.

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