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SBJ/February 18 - 24, 2002/This Weeks Issue
Viagra agrees to MLB deal worth $30M
Published February 18, 2002
Pfizer Inc.'s Viagra drug brand has agreed in principle to a three-year sponsorship deal worth more than $30 million that will make it one of Major League Baseball's biggest corporate backers.
Viagra has already signed Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to a multiyear deal, making the 37-year-old slugger the first active athlete from any of the big four team sports willing to endorse the erectile dysfunction drug.
Sources said the price tag on the MLB deal includes both media and rights fees. Neither MLB nor Pfizer has officially unveiled their marketing plans. Previously, Viagra has used NHL icon Guy Lafleur and NASCAR Winston Cup driver Mark Martin as spokesmen, but MLB is the first of the four big sports to sign on.
Palmeiro was already getting his share of ribbing about the Viagra endorsement from other players in Las Vegas participating in the recent Big League Challenge, the MLB Players Association version of the Home Run Derby.
"I want it to be clear that Rafael does not suffer from this problem," said his agent, SFX Baseball Vice President Fernando Cuza. "But he knows the size of the problem and he would like to help those people." As many as 25 million to 30 million Americans suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Palmeiro will endorse the drug in TV and print ads from Cline, Davis & Mann, N.Y. Creative and promotional efforts are expected to focus on men's health, the approach taken as part of Viagra's sponsorship of Martin's NASCAR team.
A handful of MLB teams already have marketing deals with Pfizer. As part of the pending leaguewide deal, MLB has contacted some clubs to arrange an ambitious promotion in which Viagra would sponsor three consecutive games at the teams' home parks.
In its formative stage, the promotion is somewhat akin to Century 21's "Turn ahead the clock" nights from a few years back. The concept is to have fans vote to see their home team appear during a particular series wearing vintage uniforms chosen by the fans.
"The link between baseball and recapturing lost youth is a big creative connection," said a source familiar with the deal.
Having access to the MLB tickets and ballparks is an important part of the deal, since Pfizer wants to be able to schmooze its retail trade: doctors, pharmacists and buyers for drug chains.
Industry sources said Pfizer has been sniffing around big sports properties, including the NFL and NHL, for several years, in a desperate search of the male demographic that had previously been an imperative only for beer and car marketers.
The MLB sponsorship comes at a time when all prescription drug manufacturers are investing more heavily than ever in consumer marketing. A study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine said that consumer advertising for prescription drugs in the United States tripled from 1996 to 2000 and is now more than $2.5 billion annually.