While the National Basketball Association and National Football League aggressively market basketball and football as the hottest sports around, Major League Baseball remains in a slump when it comes to selling itself. Beyond a handful of high-profile stars (Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey Jr.), baseball's best athletes toil in relative anonymity. And the game's image remains tarnished.
Nike last week broke a campaign that boosts baseball, but only by dealing first with the negative perceptions surrounding the game. Ads address various complaints (the best athletes play other sports, the games are too long) and end with the tagline "Got a problem with baseball? Move to Norway." Funny? Yes. Edgy? Definitely. But it also shows the sorry state of a game unable to simply boast about its greatness.
Midway through the current season, baseball shows few signs of dealing with its marketing woes. There's no commissioner. Marketing chief Greg Murphy has been largely unable to pull off the kinds of big sponsorship deals he envisioned. All-Star Game ratings fell 11%, to the lowest ever for this baseball showcase. George Steinbrenner's high jinks are once again diverting attention from the sport.
There have been some encouraging signs of renewal. Interleague play, for example, has been deemed a hit. But baseball needs more. First and foremost, it needs a strong commissioner. It needs more marketing support from powerful national brands. It needs to turn all-star players like Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Bobby Jones and Alex Rodriguez into all-star endorsers.
If baseball's owners aren't willing to take the steps to make those things happen, they should move to Norway.
The liquor and prescription product industries had their advertising on
official Washington's agenda last week. Distillers won at least a temporary victory at the Federal Communications Commission, while an unusual TV spot from drug marketer Pharmacia & Upjohn got an OK from the Food & Drug Administration.
Though the five-member FCC is due for a makeover soon (with Chairman Reed Hundt among those leaving),
last week's 2-2 deadlock has halted for now Chairman Hundt's push to investigate what might happen if liquor ads ever become common on TV. When and if the issue returns, FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong has raised a key issue: Does FCC's responsibility to see that TV stations operate in the "public interest" include having FCC decide what products are fit to advertise on TV? That answer is no.
There are no such jurisdictional questions at the FDA, which has long imposed the tightest of controls on prescription drug advertising. Now Pharmacia & Upjohn wants to advertise its Depo-Provera prescription contraceptive on TV and actually say what the product does. To accomplish that goal, it's willing to pay a stiff price to satisfy existing FDA disclosure rules: The 2-minute commercial it submitted to FDA last week contains a full minute of warnings and other FDA-mandated information. This confuses TV advertising with labeling, and we'll wager many interested consumers simply will not get the message. Not until communications effectiveness becomes FDA's goal will consumers get more understandable TV ads for prescription items.