MLB COULD USE ANOTHER KEY PLAYER;POST-STRIKE TROUBLES SHOW NEED FOR MARKETING DIRECTOR

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The NBA's got it. The NFL's got it. Even the NHL, itself bearing the scars of labor strife, has it.

But Major League Baseball doesn't have it, and the game could sure use it right about now.

There's no one in Major League Baseball with a "marketing director"-level job, and many observers believe the league could sorely use one now, with fans slow to warm up to the game after the eight-month strike and the press bearing down hard about dropoffs in attendance and local TV ratings.

From team marketing directors to player agents to the sports marketing community, the perception is that MLB's marketing is rudderless and in need of a visionary and visible leader.

"A director of marketing for baseball is obviously a necessity right now-someone with a vision, someone who understands how the clubs work, someone who isn't sponsorship focused but marketing focused," said one team marketing executive.

An MLB director of marketing would need experience in various disciplines, from youth marketing to entertainment to brand building. He would also have to be committed to learning the needs and idiosyncrasies of each MLB market.

"And maybe more than marketing skills, an MLB marketing director would have to know something about crisis management," said Lynn Merritt, who handles marketing for MLB endorsement superstar Ken Griffey Jr. "It's going to take a lot out of the guy who has to re-energize baseball, because he or she is going to have to bring everything and everyone-players, networks, sponsors-together."

The question is not only whether baseball needs a marketing director, but who would be his boss. The league commissioner's position has been vacant since Fay Vincent resigned in September 1992. No one has held the post of president of Major League Baseball Properties, the league's licensing and business arm, since Richard White resigned last year.

MLB owners have put these decisions on hold until a collective bargaining agreement is signed. After that, a commissioner will be named and a president of MLB Properties will be hired. Search committees have been in place since the posts became vacant.

High on the list for the MLB Properties job, sources say, is Arlen Kantarian, exec VP-marketing and special events for Radio City Music Hall Productions. Both acting commissioner Bud Selig and Mr. Kantarian didn't return phone calls.

"It is a handicap from a marketing perspective to not have a commissioner or an MLB Properties president," said Mike Behymer, director of marketing for the Kansas City Royals. "But we recognize that there are some major issues that need to be resolved. Once they are, everything will improve."

The closest thing MLB may have to a marketing chief is Director of Market Development Kathleen Francis, who works in the office of the commissioner. In the past year and a half, her office has taken the leadership role in marketing efforts. By all accounts, Ms. Francis and her team have done commendable, quality work, particularly in organizing MLB's post-strike "Welcome to the show" integrated marketing campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

"There's more of a perception that nothing's getting done because there isn't a visible person in the commissioner and properties posts," she said. "But we are getting things done. With `Show,' we're moving in a direction we wanted to head even before the strike."

"We're working under a microscope here," Ms. Francis said, referring to press scrutiny. But she said what MLB wants is permanent solutions, and that means slow, steady brand building.

Team marketing directors agree.

"`Welcome to the show' is a great campaign, but we have to stick with it long term and build a brand identity around it," said Bill Mahre, VP-sales and marketing for the Minnesota Twins. "We can't just throw it away at the end of the season. You don't see Pepsi or General Motors create and discard taglines and brand identities every year."

Continued and increased support from marketers hinges on MLB putting together a staff that can understand the integrated marketing needs of a sponsor-or at least convincing marketers that it can do such a job with the staff it has.

"When we work with a league, we want to develop a real marketing partnership that includes media, promotion, merchandising, etc.," said Joe McCarthy, Nike's worldwide ad director. "So I don't know if MLB needs a marketing director per se, but someone who understands the big picture and facilitates that kind of relationship."

Integrated marketing was supposed to fall under the auspices of the Baseball Network, the ABC-NBC-MLB joint venture that sells ad time and corporate sponsorships, the latter area formerly a function of MLB Properties. Yet the Baseball Network is mostly staffed by veteran sales executives and few marketing minds.

The network's ambitious efforts came to a screeching halt thanks to the work stoppage. It's now selling more spots in the scatter market than in sponsorship packages and isn't expected to meet the two-year, $330 million sales goal MLB has set to renew the venture, despite a bullish sports marketplace.

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