Bud Selig: 'This Is Baseball's Golden Era'

Aggressive Marketing Has Helped MLB Commissioner Quadruple Revenue to $5.2 Billion

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the 14 years since Allan H. "Bud" Selig took over Major League Baseball, revenue has more than quadrupled to $5.2 billion, thanks in large part to aggressive marketing and corporate sponsorship. Coming off a third consecutive season of record-setting attendance, the commissioner talks about weathering the steroid storm, the World Baseball Classic -- and a 2009 retirement.
Bud Selig
Bud Selig Credit: Mary Altaffer

Ad Age: Sports marketing: Good for the game? Necessary evil? Talk a little about how things such as corporate sponsorship have helped Major League Baseball.

Mr. Selig: Over the last 14 years, we have been much more aggressive in marketing and promoting the game. When I first became interim commissioner in 1992, Major League Baseball's total revenue amounted to $1.2 billion. This past season we reached $5.2 billion, thus quadrupling revenues in only 14 years. Our business partners certainly have played a significant role in helping us grow the game so successfully.

Major League Baseball has the privilege of working with great business partners. Our philosophy when establishing relationships is to seek out the "best in brand" -- companies that both share our passion for the game and want to collaborate their assets to help market our sport. We have a committed, creative and innovative set of partners, and I am always amazed at the ways they help us reach our fans. For example, in 2006, our corporate sponsors spent roughly $400 million dollars to help market the game. They launched at least 15 new MLB-themed commercials, which were featured during national TV broadcasts, and sponsored and supported eight nationally televised specials produced by MLB Productions that aired on ESPN during prime time.

Ad Age: How involved are you in the marketing end? Some of your colleagues are hands-on; others leave it to the marketing department. Where do you fall in that spectrum?

Mr. Selig: Major League Baseball's fan-outreach strategy encompasses a number of disciplines within the commissioner's office -- including traditional advertising, marketing and sponsorship, as well as community affairs, baseball operations, public relations, business operations, and diversity and recruitment. I spend a great deal of time each day talking to the people responsible for the myriad activities that go on under each of these categories. I am very involved in the overall theme and direction of our marketing mix and guide a strong, smart, dedicated team at the commissioner's office, which is led by MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy. This is a group of true professionals, and I have the utmost confidence in all of them to do their best to protect and promote the game.

Ad Age: TV ratings have been down, but based on factors such as attendance, corporate sponsorship and more, would you say baseball is in another golden era?

Mr. Selig: Definitely. This is baseball's golden era. The game has never been more popular, and that conclusion is reached through every conceivable measure of comparison. The numbers from 2006 reflect that. We saw record revenue of $5.2 billion. We set an all-time attendance record for the third consecutive year, as more than 76 million fans attended our games. We reached a new labor deal without a threat of work stoppage and now have the security of labor peace through 2011. All of this was achieved in a year that also saw three new television agreements; long-awaited stadium deals in New York [for both the Yankees and the Mets], Washington, Minnesota and Oakland; the successful rollout of the World Baseball Classic; and the seventh different World Series champion in as many years.

Ad Age: A two-fold question: It doesn't appear that MLB is having any trouble attracting partners and sponsors despite the cloud of steroids. What would you attribute that to? And what is baseball's position on marketing Barry Bonds' likely final push to break Hank Aaron's all-time home-run record, given the cloud that also hangs over Mr. Bonds?

Mr. Selig: The game of baseball has thrived for nearly a century and a half and is woven into the fabric of our country. I believe it is the greatest game ever invented. Baseball brings people together. It provides an escape from the tedium and difficulties of daily life. It gives people hope and faith, an opportunity to live vicariously through the "boys of summer." These traits have helped the game stand the test of time and, periodically, weather storms. Our partners have [shown] and continue to show unwavering commitment to Major League Baseball.

As to Hank Aaron's regular-season home-run record being broken, when and if we arrive at such a time, Major League Baseball will acknowledge the record in an appropriate manner.

Ad Age: Baseball has been in your blood for so long. How much longer would you like to stay on as commissioner?

Mr. Selig: To spend your life doing something you love is a rare gift, and I feel truly blessed to have spent nearly four full decades in the game. I have been a witness to some of the greatest moments in sports history -- and in our country's history, too. I have always said that baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities, and some of my proudest moments have been seeing greats like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron break down social barriers with their accomplishments both on and off the field. This year we'll be commemorating the 60th anniversary of Jackie's entry into the majors -- the single most important and powerful moment in the history of our game -- and hold the first Civil Rights Game in Memphis on March 31.

But when my contract expires at the end of 2009, I expect to retire. I'll be 75 years old then, and I want to write and, perhaps, even teach, which was my goal when I was a college student at the University of Wisconsin many years ago.

Ad Age: Baseball's version of the World Cup generally drew positive reviews. How do you market that the next time around? Will we see any tweaks and changes?

Mr. Selig: The inaugural World Baseball Classic was extraordinary. It was the most important international initiative that Major League Baseball had ever embarked upon. The Classic, in every way, exceeded our expectations. During those 18 days last March, the world got a chance to watch the best players in the world compete in 39 games in seven cities in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. In addition to the 740,000 people who watched the games live, the event was broadcast in seven different languages and was available in 205 countries and territories. More than 50 sponsors and 20 licensees decided to link their brands to the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

As with anything new, you take time after the fact to review what has happened. You identify things that went well and areas that could benefit from some tweaking. We are currently working with our WBC partners [and] the Major League Baseball Players Association, on this exercise. Overall, the World Baseball Classic was a great success, and we are putting our energies into making plans and looking forward to a second tournament in 2009.

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