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Major League Baseball will redirect its marketing efforts from the national stage to the local level, a significant change from its image ad campaigns of previous years.

Media time for the push is valued at about $10 million. New MLB agency Vigilante, New York, will build the campaign around a series of customized local spots-called "Fan Mail"-for 22 of its 30 teams. The efforts begin running next week with the start of the season.

Vigilante is the urban marketing arm of Leo Burnett Co., Chicago.


As part of the effort, MLB will roll out a traveling fan festival, which will tour a number of cities and feature baseball exhibits, games and competitions.

The spots will have a similar national-production look, but feature players from each team-the first time baseball has ever attempted this.

According to team marketing executives, 57 spots will be produced. MLB executives wouldn't comment on the campaign.

In some spots, players will be seen e-mailing, faxing or leaving voicemails for fans. In one, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Eric Young is faxing a note to a fan congratulating him on a nice catch in the stands.

With the campaign, MLB is looking to build on its historic season of a year ago, when a number of major records were broken by clean-cut, endorser-friendly athletes. Though public relations was at a high with fans, marketing executives say the league needed to do more.

"Baseball doesn't have enough inventory to promote nationally, unless it's in October with the World Series," said Mario Alioto, VP-marketing and sales for the San Francisco Giants, who is a member of the MLB's advertising committee. "It's better that we can promote locally in March and April when we need to sell tickets."

The marketing move aligns MLB with its marketing strengths-that is, its power in local markets through TV stations. For years, local-coverage ratings collectively have been much stronger than nationally televised games.


"Not only did [MLB] come up with a fan-friendly campaign," said Barry Stockhamer, Dodgers VP-marketing, "but the localized execution makes it relevant to our fans."

Additionally, Mr. Stockhamer said, the MLB campaign "saves us money." He said teams can supplement their own creative with these spots.

Previously, MLB would distribute one or two nationally oriented image ads to be aired locally featuring well-known ballplayers. Last year's campaign featured a number of the league's stars, with the tag "What a game!" But team marketers said these commercials didn't have much impact.


"They had a national campaign, but it didn't play well in teams' local markets," said David Alioto, senior director of sales and marketing for the Oakland Athletics, also on the MLB's advertising committee but unrelated to the Giants' Mr. Alioto. "A [MLB] spot with Mike Piazza, for instance, doesn't play well in Oakland."

He said Oakland will run these spots in about 10% of the ad inventory it controls via its TV outlets.

Oakland's Mr. Alioto said the MLB spots will be 25 seconds with a 5-second tag from the team added. This year, the A's ad theme is "They're young, but they can play. Generation A's" (AA. Feb. 22).

Smaller-market teams may have a harder time devoting much time to the MLB spots because of restrictive deals with their broadcast and cable partners.

"It is difficult for us," said Randy Adamack, VP-communications for the Seattle Mariners. "It's very important for us to establish our own campaign. In our game telecast, we have one spot per game for our broadcast . . . and two for cable. It doesn't leave us enough spots. Now if there is unsold inventory [during the game, then] we can place them."


MLB's two national image spots will run on its national TV partners: Fox Sports, NBC and ESPN. They will feature the San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn and the Boston Red Sox's Normar Garciaparra.

Another MLB agency, Waylon Ad, St. Louis, is producing public service announcements with a number of major league players for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Vigilante also is producing a spot commemorating the 25th anniversary of Hank

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