SBJ/October 8 - 14, 2001/This Weeks Issue

MasterCard, MLB hammer out new deal

MasterCard International and Major League Baseball have agreed in principle to renew their corporate sponsorship in a five-year, $81 million deal.

The renewal includes media buys on Fox and ESPN broadcasts and extends rights to include nearly all of MLB's assets, including international and online. It also includes baseball's jewel events, the World Series and All-Star Game, which were separate under the previous agreement.

MasterCard has remained an MLB sponsor this year without a formal deal. The new MLB Advanced Media squabbled with the client and MLB itself over the value of its rights, at one point even suggesting two separate deals. Thus the five-year deal actually extends the relationship for an additional four years beyond this season.

In its four years with MLB, MasterCard has been as active as any sponsor.

McCann-Erickson has produced a slew of MLB-themed spots under the "Priceless" umbrella, and baseball promotions using MLB have started to be as fetching as the award-winning creative. Last year's All-Century Team, in which fans were asked to pick the best players of the 20th century, yielded an assemblage of baseball talent on the field before the All-Star Game that brought fans, and even calloused marketers, to tears.

Still to be resolved before the deal is done, according to sponsorship and agency sources, is the precise definition of the category MasterCard will receive.

With the changing face of the Internet and other technologies as a payment system, MasterCard now competes with companies using everything from cell-phone payment systems (currently gaining popularity in Europe) to Internet payment systems that aren't card-based. Beanz and off-line virtual-payment devices like EZ Pass are increasingly being used to pay for things other than road tolls.

"The brand equities that MasterCard and baseball share are unique in sponsorship," said a marketer working on the MasterCard account. "They are both enduring, authentic and trusted institutions. So when you merge the two, it creates a powerful marketing platform."

MasterCard's involvement with baseball began with the debut of its "Priceless" campaign on the World Series five years ago, signing just as the 1997 season expired, so the original "Priceless" ad was done without the use of MLB marks, although it featured "real conversation with an 11-year-old" at a ballgame as the payoff for the spot.

The renewal is expected to be unveiled at the World Series. MasterCard will wrap up its current subset of the "Priceless" campaign, the "Ultimate Baseball Road Trip," with another Series ad. The tag line: "30 MLB Parks down and none to go — Priceless."

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