MLB TAPS MAGIC OF MCGWIRE: HIS FEAT FODDER FOR ADS; LOWE OUT ON ACCOUNT

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Mark McGwire isn't yet cashing in on his home run record, but Major League Baseball and several marketers are showing no reluctance to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the feat.

MLB Properties, New York, saluted the St. Louis Cardinals slugger for swatting No. 62 in an in-house created TV spot and print ad that broke Sept. 9; the league's marketing arm intends to honor the player with the most home runs in a similar fashion on the last day of the season.

Like the ads celebrating Mr. McGwire, the post-season spot will run on MLB's national, regional and local TV carriers, while the print ad will run in USA Today.

MORE OF `WHAT A GAME'

MLB Properties also is rushing into production two new spots featuring its "What a game" tagline. The spots will air during Fox's broadcast of the 1998 World Series, expected to get higher ratings than usual because of the increased interest in baseball.

MLB has an undisclosed agency helping on the spots, and has begun a search for a shop to handle its estimated $10 million to $15 million account. It is parting ways with Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York.

The marketing effort is the most aggressive since the image-tarnishing strike of 1994. Since the All-Star Game break, MLB Properties has been producing a new TV spot each day, delivered via satellite to its 30 teams for their local TV carriers, to update the assault on Roger Maris' record. The updates are continuing now that the record has been shattered, with new spots asking, "What will the new record be?"

"Baseball is really coming back," said Tom Worcester, MLB Properties VP-sponsorship sales and marketing. "The marginal fans are back. Corporate America is coming back."

SPONSORSHIP DEALS

Mr. Worcester said a new title sponsor will be announced soon for MLB's annual All-Star Game Fanfest. And a number of sponsors are renewing their deals, with greater commitment to national marketing support. Anheuser-Busch is believed to have agreed to renew the day after Mr. McGwire broke the record.

MLB sponsors A-B, MasterCard International and Pepsi-Cola Co. have created spots taking advantage of the home run hype. Nike is planning to contribute to the barrage, as well.

Nike's idea, which at press time existed in script form only, focuses on the home run chase; it would rely on MLB footage and require approval from the league.

Nike's agency is Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

A bidding war is said to have broken out among athletic footwear marketers for Mr. McGwire's endorsement.

Mr. McGwire wears Nike shoes, but isn't paid to do so. Converting to a paid relationship could give Nike's cross-training category its biggest marketing boost since "Bo knows" launched the category in the late '80s. Sales of cross-training shoes have declined sharply during the past 18 months.

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