Published on .

Most Popular
The marketing revolution at Major League Baseball seems stuck on interminable hold. Last season, MLB club owners hired Greg Murphy to restore and reinvigorate a brand that had lost luster and muster among consumers and marketers. Even then, however, the buzz was that club owners would never cede the authority it would take to market baseball nationally. Unfortunately, those doubts look just as strong today.

Since Mr. Murphy's arrival, the owners have shot down a proposed $450 million national apparel marketing and licensing pact with Nike and Reebok International, and the New York Yankees have struck out on their own and signed a 10-year, $95 million sponsorship with Adidas America. In this climate, who can blame sports marketers if they are growing skeptical about baseball's commitment to national marketing strategies?

Case-in-point: Pepsi's pending sponsorship deal with MLB was once characterized as "mega"; now, spooked by MLB's bad publicity and uncertainty over what Mr. Murphy can deliver, Pepsi is eyeing a more scaled-back program, one without national advertising.

Nike CEO Phil Knight, stung by Adidas' Yankees coup, is right in his blunt assessment that "MLB has a ways to go to get its act together."

After the Yankees deal, many MLB teams are said to be banging on the doors of not only Adidas but Fila USA, Nike and Reebok, suspecting that the demise of centralized licensing is nigh and believing they, too, can get Yankee-like bucks. Don't bank on it.

Nike and Reebok don't need the exposure an Adidas or Fila do. What Nike and Reebok need are national licensing rights to build their apparel divisions, and if MLB teams, legally bound to a national collective marketing structure, can't deliver, those companies aren't interested.

MLB needs a strong centralized marketing unit to build a national brand, develop programs targeting kids and develop an international business. Baseball won't be an effective national marketing platform until the bosses, the owners, sacrifice self-interest for stability and a long-term growth plan.

Where's Joe?

ld joe, absent from the newest creative for Camel cigarettes, is just temporarily off duty, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has assured those who follow his career.

"We have no intention of walking away from Joe," said a spokesman. That's admirable loyalty to a hard-working brand spokesman-touching even, now that Joe is on sort of a regulatory death row, marked for elimination under the Food & Drug Admin-istration's new tobacco marketing rules.

If the federal courts uphold those rules, Joe and any future cartoon-like creative for tobacco products will be outlawed. RJR's to-the-bitter-end defense of the right to use cartoon imagery to market cigarettes will have accomplished little other than to help convince many in Washington and on Main Street that massive government intervention against tobacco advertising is justified; that advertisers are using the First Amendment to shield ads that appear designed to attract youngsters.

That's a high cost advertising has paid for Old Joe's undeniable success in helping revive the Camel brand. Whether it's Uncle Sam who eventually does it,

In this article: