MLB TO COORDINATE NATIONAL, LOCAL ADS FOR '99 BASEBALL SEASON: GOAL IS TO CREATE ONE VOICE FOR LEAGUE, TEAMS

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Major League Baseball plans to implement a new ad strategy in 1999, with national spots being complemented in local markets by ads featuring a similar concept specific to each team.

The goal is to create one voice with which the league and its 30 teams can promote the game to fans.

A committee of MLB Properties and team marketing executives has been formed to craft and execute the strategy.

TEST PLANNED FOR THIS YEAR

Teams usually kick back inventory in their local broadcasts to MLB. And that time has been used to run MLB image spots that already air nationally. Next year, the time will be used to air local versions of the national concept.

A test involving one team is planned for this year.

The cooperation required to pull off this strategy represents an about-face from the recent discord between the league office and local teams over marketing. Last season began with MLB marketing executives bickering with owners on how to best package and sell sponsorships.

STEINBRENNER'S ADIDAS DEAL

In particular, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner stunned the league by inking a 10-year, $91 million sponsorship with Adidas, undermining already frustrated efforts by MLB Properties to sign athletic footwear powers Nike and Reebok International to marketing pacts.

The deal led to litigation.

MLB is expected to soon announce a new on-field apparel strategy that will give Adidas a prominent role.

The ad strategy being implemented next season will be based on a new national campaign being launched next week.

The first TV spots continue the "What a game" theme created two seasons ago by Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York. This year's creative will identify events and athletes making news that week, and direct fans to keep watching to see what develops next.

The MLB Properties campaign will run throughout the season during the league's national broadcasts on ESPN, Fox and NBC. The format will extend into next year.

The plans for '99 would have "news bulletin" spots customized for every team, following their progress all season long.

ONLY TARGETING FANS

Last year's "What a game" effort sought to popularize baseball by dramatizing what goes on in the heads of several star players. This year's ads won't target non-fans.

"If you take a look at our fan base, we're at pre-strike levels -- 62% say they are baseball fans," said Bob Gamgort, president of MLB Properties.

"We're not going to chase non-fans this year to bump that up to 65%," he said. "The real opportunity is to convert the light to moderate fans into more avid fans."

MLB does have new Lowe work hitting this week, supporting its ties to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Mr. Gamgort said the ongoing campaign will promote players as role models.

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