MLB'S CHEERY ADS CAN'T HIDE OBSTACLES

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Major League Baseball can try to gloss over its problems with a feel-good marketing campaign, but it doesn't take much scratching for fans and sponsors to see the league's underlying and unresolved problems.

MLB will launch its $15 million "Welcome to the show" campaign with a TV spot during ESPN's Opening Day telecast April 25. The commercial from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, uses familiar baseball imagery-hot dog vendors, ballpark organists, bleacher seats.

Team marketing executives applaud the effort and say they look forward to receiving their "Welcome to the show" logos and bumper stickers. But many say they won't use the league marketing approach in their own ticket-selling promotional efforts for at least a couple weeks.

"My only concern is that kids won't be able to relate to it," said Dave Venerri, director of marketing for the Seattle Mariners. "*`Welcome to the show' skews much older. I don't think kids will take to it or think it's hip, like they did with `Game on!'," the National Hockey League's post-lockout effort.

MLB's integrated campaign also calls for the cooperation of corporate sponsors. But late last week some key sponsors said they had yet to be contacted about participating.

"We haven't heard much more than we've read in the papers, and I don't think we'd get involved, not like we did with `Game on!"' said Peter McLoughlin, group director of corporate media, Anheuser-Busch.

But Mr. McLoughlin said A-B will continue to use MLB as a marketing tool, spending as much on baseball as in years past. Its deal with The Baseball Network, the ABC-NBC-MLB joint venture that sells media time and sponsorships, calls for a consumer promotion pegged to the World Series, and Mr. McLoughlin said details of the promotion are being finalized.

None of these efforts can hide the fact that owners and players still don't have a collective bargaining agreement. Many marketers are staying away from baseball until its labor dispute is resolved. Case in point: True Value Hardware Stores.

"We have a deal with MLB, but we aren't activating it at this time," said Chuck Kremers, VP-marketing, True Value.

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