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THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR-MAYBE BASEBALL ADVERTISERS TAKE A HIKE FOR '94

By Published on .

Major League Baseball has certainly piled up some huge numbers in its 125th season, and that's even as Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas ride the bench, strikebound.

Consider these stats for the now-shattered season:

The Baseball Network is out about $95 million in commitments from major marketers.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates a total economic loss of $25 million for 22 MLB cities surveyed.

In total, half a billion dollars in national and local media spending will evaporate from baseball.

MLB folded its 1994 tent last week as acting commissioner Bud Selig announced the premature end to a very exciting season, due to the bitter labor dispute between players and owners that erupted in a strike Aug. 12. Mr. Selig said those differences required canceling the rest of the season to work them out if there can be any hope of starting the 1995 season on time.

The move didn't exactly take advertisers by surprise. Contingency plans are in place, and that $500 million in scotched spending could resurface elsewhere, with such venues as sales promotion or spot TV being major beneficiaries. During the strike, much of the spending has gone to substitute programming on ABC, ESPN, local TV and radio, and regional sports networks.

At the big networks, current inventory is tight in all dayparts. Some time is left in NFL broadcasts on Fox and NBC but at more than $200,000 per spot. College football on ABC and cable sports networks, as well as National Hockey League broadcasts on ESPN and Fox, stand to benefit.

But there's no joy over 1994 in Mudville or the Baseball Network, the fledgling ABC-NBC-MLB joint venture. Baseball Network sales executives are meeting with the likes of Anheuser-Busch and General Motors Corp. about make-goods and reworking long-term packages, but they're seeing brighter prospects for 1995.

Baseball Network executives are already pitching new advertisers on the '95 TV package. "We have to proceed as if baseball was coming back," said Exec VP Mike Trager.

One Baseball Network executive said as of now, 1995 sales are 30% ahead of where they were going into the '94 season, which was just over $100 million. Until the strike, '94 sales had reached $130 million, but now the Baseball Network will have to release commitments for about $95 million of that.

Since it will be virtually impossible for the Baseball Network to meet its two-year sales goal of $330 million, MLB owners have the option of dissolving the venture. Many owners would rather have a rights-fee deal than the current revenue sharing system with ABC and NBC. And Fox owner Rupert Murdoch has been open about his willingness to pay big bucks for baseball.

Other ad services are also suffering. Dorna USA, which sells space on rotating sign systems in 11 big league ballparks, will have to return 30% of its '94 baseball revenue to advertisers like Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald's Corp.

Several marketers will really miss the World Series this year.

More than half of Anheuser-Busch's Baseball Network ad buy-or an estimated $30 million-was allocated for the post-season with a World Series Budweiser consumer promotion.

"We lost a showcase marketing vehicle that averages a 20 rating in prime time for at least four nights in the fall," said Tony Ponturo, senior VP-corporate media and sports marketing, who's looking to reinvest in print and local media.

Texaco's midseason activity had included a sweepstakes that offered World Series tickets. It's now talking to winners about accepting other prizes or tickets to next season's World Series.

If there is a next season.

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