Minor-League Baseball Creates One-Stop Digital-Ad-Buying Platform

New System Allows National Advertisers Such as Kraft, Pepsi to Play Ball With 130 Teams

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For many, minor-league baseball games conjure up images of rundown stadiums in tiny markets, low attendance numbers and wacky promotions and mascot races sponsored by the Main Street Bank between innings. The truth is Minor League Baseball is a half-billion dollar industry with a loyal fan base for major national marketers to connect with. But its online ad-buying system wasn't exactly set up for efficiency -- until now.

Kraft Singles: Tuesday Night Tickets

Kraft is promoting 'Tuesday Night Tickets' for the second year.

If a marketer wanted to run an ad to cover all 160 teams that make up the various leagues, ad buyers once needed to have 160 different conversations -- a daunting and unpleasant task to reach the 60 million visitors to Minor League Baseball during its six-month season last year. But a new digital-buying platform rolled out this season has centralized the process so marketers need only have one contact with a league rep to run an ad across nearly the entire network of sites, potentially opening it up to more business from national advertisers. Marketers such as Kraft and PepsicCo's Frito Corn Chips have already signed on to the system created by Minor League Baseball, which partnered with Major League Baseball Advanced Media. Some 148 teams are currently taking part.

Chris Urban, brand manager at Kraft Cheese, said he worked with one representative from Minor League Baseball to get Kraft's program up online. Last year, he said, he had to speak to a number of teams individually. "Not having to deal with getting approval from all of the individual teams made it a lot easier and appealing," Mr. Urban said.

Kraft is promoting its Kraft Singles "Tuesday Night Tickets" promotion on team sites for the second year. As part of the push, fans that show up at stadiums with a Kraft Singles wrapper can buy one ticket and get another free. Mr. Urban said ticket redemption has increased tenfold through the month of May vs. 2009, when the promotion didn't run on nearly as many sites.

"There are a lot more minor league teams than there are professional ones," Mr. Urban said. "And we found the markets they fit well with the core consumer for Kraft singles. So we get into smaller markets where there aren't major league baseball teams and this gives us better exposure with our consumers."

Brian Earle, executive director of branded properties at Minor League Baseball, said 52% of its website visitors are in the 19- to 45-year-old age range and that 38% of all visitors have a household income of over $75,000.

The new platform allows national advertisers to also run ads on Minor League Baseball's official site, milb.com. And teams still have the capability to sell ad space individually and control various content modules on their respective sites. Other major advertisers taking part include PepsiCo, Lance Snacks, Carvel ice cream and children's story franchise Thomas the Tank Engine. Minor League Baseball is hoping to have between 10 to 15 major national advertisers taking part next year.

Frank Burke, owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and chairman of Baseball Internet Rights Co., a joint-venture between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, said he and his colleagues got the idea to run a joint ad-buying platform from MLB. "MLB has shown that the total is bigger than the sum of the parts and that's how we're trying to approach it," he said. "It's similar to the model MLB has but it's 160 teams vs. 30 teams," which is why it took two years to get everyone on the same page, he said.

The platform allows the teams to present a unified message, which Mr. Burke admits was something it had trouble doing in the past. "For marketers, it lets them reach consumers in places like Chattanooga and West Virginia, communities where we work hard to build loyalty," Mr. Burke said. "In theory we deliver people who are loyal to where that marketing message is coming from."

Mr. Burke said the advertisers taking part have spent close to $200,000 in ad buys to this point, which will be divided among the participating teams. With the season halfway over and the program just starting to pick up steam, Mr. Burke said he's happy with that amount, for the present time. "It's not a huge number right now but we're alright with that considering it's so new," he said. "That's obviously not our ultimate goal."

Mr. Burke said his team, which would be described as a mid-size double AA franchise, sold $1 million in advertising last year to a combination of local and national advertisers. "Not all of our advertising is local and not all of it is the local guy selling suits to people who hit his billboard," he said. "But I like to say that if you stand still long enough in my ballpark, I'll get some sort of billboard on you."

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