Fox Sports hones sharper edge for America's pastime

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Net's first crop of MLB promos win applause from within the revamping league

Fox Sports is bringing a sense of edginess and irreverence to pro baseball promotions--just as it did with football and hockey--in an attempt to restore the game's damaged image.

Fox's Major League Baseball broadcasts begin this summer, but its first spots break with the start of the baseball season in April. They feature Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas and are a continuation of the "Same game, new attitude" campaigns created by Fox for its National Football League and National Hockey League broadcasts.

The spots are already a hit with team marketing executives.

"To see a TV partner step up with this kind of's exactly the tonic that baseball needs," said Rob Gallas, senior VP-broadcasting and marketing for the Chicago White Sox.


MLB is slowly developing more marketing muscle. Agency and sports marketing executives said the league is restructuring its business unit, Major League Baseball Properties, and giving it a new name; the leading candidate is Baseball Enterprises.

Who will lead that organization as its president-CEO remains to be seen. For more than a year, MLB has been negotiating with Arlen Kantarian, currently an exec VP at Radio City Music Hall Productions and a former executive at NFL Properties.

Mr. Kantarian has been consulting for MLB during this courtship. MLB's most recent plan was to announce his hiring in early February.


But sports marketing executives said negotiations have hit a snag, with MLB owners opting not to ratify Mr. Kantarian's contract at recent winter meetings.

A league spokesman insists Mr. Kantarian's hiring wasn't even addressed at the meeting. Acting Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig didn't return calls and Mr. Kantarian couldn't be reached for comment.

Fox's promotional push is exactly what the league was expecting when it sold a five-year package of TV rights to the network last year for $575 million.

Tool, a Los Angeles-based commercial production house, created the first spots.

One features Mr. Ripken and suggests the Baltimore Orioles star enlisted an evil twin to help him break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. An additional 30 spots will be shot during spring training.

"We don't think the game of baseball has lost any of its intrinsic appeal, but we believe it somehow forgot how to speak to kids. We've proven we can market sports in a language kids understand," said Tracy Dolgin, exec VP-marketing at Fox Sports.

"There are no fears that we will ruin the sport by Fox-ifying it, because there's a respect for what we've done for other leagues," Mr. Dolgin said. "So we're going to have some fun."

Copyright January 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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