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SBJ/September 14 - 20, 1998/No Topic Name
The marketing monster
Published September 14, 1998
As he watched Mark
McGwire topple milestone after milestone in the week leading up to his season-record 62nd home run, the same image kept flashing before John DeWall's eyes: The Abbey, Seal Beach.
Each time McGwire sat in front of a camera during a postgame news conference, he wore a gray cap bearing the logo of the Southern California eatery, which is located near his off-season home. Each time DeWall saw the cap, it made him wonder.
New Era, the cap manufacturer for which DeWall serves as marketing director, had paid handsomely for the exclusive rights to have its commemorative 62nd home run cap worn on the field and in the clubhouse after McGwire penned history.
What if McGwire's disregard and even distaste for the deluge of promotion that surrounded the record played out as some feared it might, and the big first baseman stepped to the podium wearing The Abbey's growingly familiar mark, rather than New Era's commemorative 62?
"One of the things I had reiterated repeatedly in discussions [with Major League Baseball] was, 'Let's make sure he's going to wear our cap,'" said DeWall. "Fortunately for us, he understood the importance of it, and he did it. But I honestly can't say I wasn't concerned."
The right to be worn by McGwire on this night came at a premium.
Industry insiders said Major League Baseball and the players association were asking $100,000 for locker-room rights and eventually settled for Starter Corp.'s offer of $50,000, which entitled the company to distribute its T-shirts in the clubhouse, thus reaping the benefits of media exposure when the players donned them. Sources estimated that New Era paid $35,000 to get its cap worn in the clubhouse.
That's significantly less than it costs to get a presence at the Super Bowl, but more than several companies were willing to pay to tag on to this event, since being on McGwire's 24 teammates didn't guarantee the sort of exposure that a shirt-maker hopes for when it forks over $50,000.
The postgame celebration smiled on New Era. McGwire wore its cap during the news conference that was televised nationally a coup that could lead to four times the sales it would have generated otherwise, according to New Era. Starter was less fortunate. The rest of the Cardinals team displayed its shirts, but McGwire didn't squeeze into one until he went to the clubhouse after touring the field in a Cardinals red '62 Corvette.
Starter lost the exposure of the news conference, though McGwire did change in time to wear the shirt while taping a "Today" show interview with Bob Costas.
"We knew up-front that he was going to wear his Cardinals uniform on the field during the ceremony,'' said Robin Wexler, a Starter spokeswoman. "Would we have liked for him to wear our shirt for every minute after he hit the home run? Definitely. But we were pleased he did wear it in the locker room as he agreed to, and we did get some exposure out of that, particularly locally."
Licensees both those who paid to be on-field and those who didn't were crowing about sales in the days following the event.
New Era sold 25,000 of its caps during a QVC special that went on the air four minutes after McGwire finished rounding the bases. QVC Inc. announced the next day that it took orders for more than $2.6 million in McGwire merchandise, selling more than 100,000 items by night's end.
New Era anticipated that McGwire's cap sales would mirror those of a World Series that did not include an elite merchandise driver, such as the New York Yankees. That sort of output about 250,000 caps would generate about four times the sales New Era saw during baseball's last landmark achievement, Cal Ripken's eclipse of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game record.
Pro Player Inc., which produced two commemorative shirts and was planning a third to be released on Sept. 28, projected retail sales in excess of $2 million. So did Nutmeg Mills, another licensee. Both said they were hearing reports of long lines for their merchandise at retail outlets nationwide.
While not releasing figures, Starter said its sales will top those it produced after the Detroit Red Wings' two recent Stanley Cup championships and those of college basketball's Final Four.
"What I'm going to find interesting is how long this lasts," said Ed Doran, president of Nutmeg, which is VF Corp.'s licensed knitwear division. "This might have a little more legs to it."
That question was applicable for various segments associated with the event.
In the endorsement world, companies are waiting to see how McGwire will respond now that the record is behind him though the season isn't. His reluctance to interrupt his routine to tape commercials has brought compliments within the baseball world but criticism from some marketers.
McGwire gambled by waiting, passing on the chance to capitalize on the exposure that came with the chase. That gamble may pay off. Industry watchers were predicting seven-figure endorsement deals for
McGwire, whose representatives have said all along that they would select only a handful of companies, with the focus on long-term commitments.
Those could be more difficult to come by, though, if McGwire insists on waiting until October to cash in.
"I give him a lot of credit for not participating up until now,'' said Steve Rosner, executive vice president of Integrated Sports International, an athlete management service that has counted Steve Young and Hakeem Olajuwon among its clients. "But for a company that's going to put up upwards of $1 million, they respect the decision, but they want to know what that's going to mean for them."
The value of an association with
McGwire likely will diminish with time because his exposure will be reduced, Rosner said.
A company's best shot at maximizing exposure would be to air commercials featuring McGwire during the World Series, Rosner said. But that likely would entail having McGwire agree to spend several hours on a game day shooting the commercial, as players in other sports do. Several of Frito-Lay Inc.'s commercials featuring Super Bowl quarterbacks, for instance, were shot the Tuesday after the conference championship games.
To date, McGwire has opted against such commitments.
"If there's a seven-figure guy in sports right now, Mark McGwire is it,'' Rosner said. "But, again, he has to do this strategically. He has to be willing to participate. And he has to choose the right companies to represent.
"In this case, less is more."