Now, sensitive to marketer anxieties about the future of ad-supported TV and the rising costs of sponsorship, fledgling leagues may provide access to marketing areas that were once off limits.
"The perception is always skewed to be negative, that it `perverts the sanctity of the sport.' But consumers are much more aware and appreciative of the connection between sponsor and sporting event," said Eric Margenau, co-owner of Global Sports Marketing, a South Bend, Ind., sports marketing company. Global Sports is reviving the All-American Girl's Professional Baseball League, immortalized in "A League of Their Own."
Mr. Margenau said the new, renamed All-American Women's Baseball League will revive three of the original franchises, which his company now owns. As many as six teams will comprise the 35-plus game summer league when it begins in 1995.
The league is looking for two title sponsors, preferably in the athletic apparel and soft-drink categories, as well as national sponsors for the individual teams.
Sponsors would receive everything from logos on uniforms to stadium signage. Mr. Margenau is even open to naming the teams after league sponsors.
Global Sports will also discuss team ownership with advertisers. Mr. Margenau said plans are in the works to pitch Columbia Pictures, which distributed "A League of Their Own," about buying a team.
Two weeks ago, news broke that a group of former National Football League executives was creating an NFL rival, the A League, composed of 12 advertiser-owned teams. CBS is said to be willing to be the A League's broadcast home.
A League leader Mike Lynn told Advertising Age last week that several one-time NFL franchise hopefuls have approached a number of advertisers and offered to partner with them to help run their teams.
Media consultants agree the idea's time has come.
"In essence, companies have been supporting sports leagues for years by paying for network rights fees with their ad dollars-with no return on their investment," said Jack Myers, president of Myers Communications, a Parsippany, N.J., consultancy.
And sports marketing experts predict that these winds of change will soon sweep through the likes of the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.
"They have no choice," said Frank Vuono, a former NFL marketing executive and now president of Integrated Sports International, an East Rutherford, N.J., sports marketing company.