MLB Advertising: A's and Jays pick on Yanks to draw fans

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The newest marketing play in Major League Baseball appears to be trashing the New York Yankees.

The Oakland A's ballclub has been running a spot showing a crowd outside a sports bar. As the camera follows the snaking line, it is revealed that all the patrons are waiting to use one particular urinal in a restroom despite the other urinals being free. Why? Because taped above the popular urinal is a newspaper article describing the A's crushing the Yankees. Originally, the creative called for a deodorant cake at the bottom of the urinal with a Yankees logo on it, but that concept was yanked.

The commercial was the second potty shot in this young baseball season aimed at the 26-time World Series champions. Last month, the Toronto Blue Jays tried to spark fan interest through a rivalry with the Yankees. In a full-page ad in the Toronto Star, a Yankees cap was covered in bird droppings. Copy included instructions, in Japanese, for fans to boo Yankee rookie Hideki Matsui.

The Blue Jays' ad was dropped after the Yankees took offense and was followed by apologies from the Blue Jays manager and management. "There is an unwritten rule: You don't desecrate another team's logo," said one Major League Baseball executive. He added: "It's absolutely the wrong way to market a team. You get big upfront publicity but it has no staying power."

resignation

Subsequently, Blue Jays marketing director, Paul Allamby, senior VP-marketing and sales, resigned, with the Blue Jays declaring Mr. Allamby wanted to pursue other business opportunities. Blue Jays' executive Jim Bloom, himself a former A's official, however, remains with the Blue Jays. Neither Mr. Bloom, nor Blue Jays executives, returned phone calls for comment.

The A's VP-sales and marketing, David Alioto, said his club "has no plans to attack another team," adding "we do our talking on the field."

Major League Baseball spokeswoman Kathleen Fineout said the league has not issued any guidelines or directives as a result of the Toronto ads. A Yankees spokesman said: "It doesn't matter how many teams do that. This is just a battle we're not going to get into."

Both the Blue Jays and Oakland A's share a common business problem: some of the lowest attendance in the majors. In 2002, Oakland was 18th of 30 teams with an average attendance of 26,787 per game, only 61.4% of its stadium's seating capacity. Toronto was 25th, with 22,220 per game, only 40% filled to capacity. The A's last year were unable to sell out even as they racked up the longest winning streak in American League history.

At the same time, the Yankees drew the biggest crowds on the road in all of baseball, with an average attendance of 36,296, filling opponents' stadiums to 78.9% of capacity.

The A's campaign, which includes eight spots focusing on player personalities, is the first out of the box from new agency, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Tagged "You're in baseball country now," it also includes bus and outdoor efforts. Bus-shelter ads are designed like baseball cards. One features the A's Barry Zito, American League winner of the 2002 Cy Young award for pitching.

Goodby, Silverstein's principals, co-chairman Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, led off their careers with a big hit for the A's. As employees in the 1980s of Ogilvy & Mather's San Francisco office, under creative director Hal Riney they produced the award-winning Billy Ball campaign.

self-regulating

Perhaps the nature of baseball itself will prevent the marketing nastiness from going too far. Bob Dorfman, a sports-advertising expert who worked on the Oakland A's account at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, and now executive creative director at Pickett Advertising, San Francisco, said he once tried to get former A's first baseman Scott Spezio and other players to do a spoof ad. The plan was for them to perform a trash rock number, and to end it with the words "Yankees suck." The players refused, telling Mr. Dorfman: "You never have to stand in the batters' box and face an 89 mph fastball from Mariano Rivera."

contributing: rich thomaselli

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