NOT MUCH SPRING IN TRAINING THIS YEAR

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As a legion of big league wanna-bes begins spring training, sweating it out in front of Grapefruit and Cactus League bleachers only half-filled, marketers are aching for pro players to end their strike.

And the deadline draws ever closer for marketers to make alternate media and promotional plans.

Advertisers spend an estimated $1 billion in baseball media. And yes, they're chatting up deals with broadcasters, including the ABC-NBC-Major League Baseball joint venture called the Baseball Network-deals that will kick in if the pros play the season. But it remains to be seen if advertisers will pay for spots during games played by subs, or even if those games will get the airtime.

Still, time may have already run out for marketers to execute MLB-theme promotions, at least during the first half of the season. Texaco has already said it can't do a retail promotion around its sponsorship of All-Star Game fan voting.

Athletic footwear giants are forging ahead with efforts planned months in advance. Nike has introduced a 60-second spot with Seattle Mariner Ken Griffey Jr., and March 5 unveiled its first spot featuring Michael Jordan-the baseball player. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., handles.

Reebok International has just launched an effort to introduce its Big Hurt baseball merchandise, endorsed by Chicago White Sox star Frank Thomas. Ad agency is Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

MLB and its players are trying to make nice with fans. Last week, they announced together a fan appreciation effort with the league's six trading card licensees.

Opening day attendance at the five Grapefruit League games played March 2 was in many cases less than half the 1994 tallies. "Their numbers are down for sure, 50 percent at least," said George MacConnell, chairman of the Haynes City, Fla., baseball advisory panel for the Kansas City Royals.

In Arizona, Glenn Davis, ticket manager for the Peoria Diamond Club, the civic group selling tickets for Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres home games, said: "We are expecting about 2,500 today [March 3, opening day for Cactus League, Mariners hosting Cubs] and figure that's what the gate will be at throughout spring training. We'd normally be sold out [at 10,000] for a Cubs game and most others."

Jeffery D. Zbar and Jeff Smyth contributed to this story.

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