SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Forty Under 40

Bob Cramer

As an alum, Bob Cramer is as dedicated an Ohio State fan as any. But forget about his four years in Columbus, his degree in communications or even the Buckeyes' six Rose Bowl victories. Getting cut from the school's soccer team was the best thing that ever happened for Cramer's career.

After years on the soccer pitch without much thought about career goals, being dropped from the team his sophomore year produced a revelation.

"I'd played soccer all my life and it was taken away before I was ready," Cramer said, "but then I knew I loved sports enough to work in it for the rest of my life."

Four years later, when Cramer was in the back of a dusty warehouse inflating 300 miniature MasterCard/World Cup soccer balls and shipping them across the country, the notion of a career in sports marketing may have seemed slightly less romantic. But things worked out. Cramer now directs MasterCard's biggest domestic sponsorship, the five-year, $81 million MasterCard-Major League Baseball relationship that just completed its fourth year and will continue through 2005 after a recent extension.

Because of their shared equities of authenticity and family values, baseball and MasterCard's award-winning "Priceless" campaign from ad agency McCann-Erickson go together like hot dogs and Yankee Stadium. The Priceless campaign debuted during the 1997 World Series, with an ad depicting a father and son bonding at a baseball game. That spot would have run whether or not MasterCard had MLB corporate rights, but as it happened, the original MLB-MasterCard deal was signed just before the World Series.

Perhaps because the Priceless campaign was so strong, it took MasterCard and MLB a couple of years to craft a promotional campaign that was the equal of the creative. With the All-Century Team in 1999, the promotional side of the equation caught up. Using a marketing platform originally created by MLB, MasterCard supported voting and did ads around the selection of the century's best players. It was one of the most genuine promotional sports platforms ever.

"Everybody embraced it because it was clearly so legitimate," said Cramer, who has focused on baseball for MasterCard since '99. It also drove brand preference and thus gross dollar volume, according to an ongoing MasterCard tracking study. The program's best moment was a heart-warming appearance by baseball's best mixing with stars of the past, just before the All-Star Game. Grown men were teary-eyed at the sight of baseball legends surrounding Ted Williams on the Fenway Park infield. Williams rode out in a golf cart, unable to walk onto the field where he performed so ably during his 19 years with the Red Sox. Talk about a "Priceless" moment.

Just like any team's championship season, the success of that program only left fans wanting more. What have you done for me lately?

"Everybody keeps telling me they want another All-Century Team," Cramer said. But MasterCard doesn't plan to repeat the promotion, even if we are in a different century. The real challenge for Cramer and MasterCard is to come up with another platform that can combine a strong creative effort with a promotional platform. This year's "Road Trip" campaign yielded fetching creative, as a pair of baseball fans crisscrossed the country visiting every MLB park. However, the accompanying promotions didn't match those of the All-Century Team.

So before the postseason playoff qualifiers were even set this season, Cramer and MasterCard were already working on next year's lineup.

"Ideally, we'd like to come up with what the baseball platform is first and advertise against that rather than the other way around," he said.

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