SBJ/March 18 - 24, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Orioles' new television ads have players and laughs, but no palm trees

Editor's note: The 14th paragraph of this story is revised from the print edition.

Who said baseball has to be serious? The Trahan, Burden & Charles ad agency, known as TBC, has launched six humorous television ads featuring a slew of Baltimore Orioles players and coaches.

Perhaps the funniest commercial in the "Give Us an O!" campaign is "Coach's Signals." Manager Mike Hargrove and a few coaches order food at Sabatino's Restaurant in Baltimore using hand signals, as if they're telling waitress Peachy Dixon — who works there in real life — to square around for a bunt. Lasagna and linguini arrive. Then, Hargrove gets a sign from the waitress. He's got spinach in his teeth.

In another spot, second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. dreams of his own bobblehead doll and almost misses a game.

TBC chief creative officer Allan Charles — whose son, "Sports Night" actor Josh Charles, also stars in the bobblehead spot — said it used to be hard to persuade players to tape commercials. No more.

"The younger guys have grown up under the sports marketing paradigm," he said.

The ads were shot in Baltimore during the end of the 2001 season rather than at their usual venue, spring training in Florida. Baltimore-based TBC, which has created Orioles ads for a decade, gambled that Hairston and others would still be playing for the team.

"One of the big problems [with ads shot during spring training] is you get the spring-training look, like palm trees, all year round," said Charles, who wrote and produced most of the ads. "In September the weather's still great here, and we got to use the best ballpark [Camden Yards] in the majors."

The TV ads are accompanied by three local outdoor billboards. No radio or print ads are planned, though the Orioles often use those media during the season to sell tickets.

The Orioles campaign costs between $1 million and $2 million. TBC nabbed billings of $140 million in 2001.

RACE TO THE FINISH: Promoting the first auto race in Washington, D.C., since Calvin Coolidge roamed the White House is a publicist's dream.

"This won't be a tough sell," said Steve Winter, president of Brotman Winter Fried in D.C.

The National Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. — a stop on the American Le Mans Race Series — will run July 19-21 at the RFK Stadium parking lot. To assure a big turnout for the February news conference promoting ticket sales, Winter trotted out daredevil motorcyclist Robbie Knievel and model Kim Alexis.

"Everyone showed up," Winter said. "The TV stations, the [Baltimore] Sun, the [Washington] Post."

Winter's firm is working the race on two fronts. It's promoting the race for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which runs RFK. Also, National Grand Prix Holdings LLC's public relations firm, Imre Communications in Baltimore, subcontracted Brotman Winter Fried to handle the Washington press.

Winter said BWF sports billings were $2.1 million in 2001, about half of the firm's total, and grow from 5 percent to 10 percent annually.

He can count on Le Mans-related revenue for some time. The racing group's contract with D.C. Sports and Entertainment lasts 10 years.

WHAT OFF-SEASON? After working hard on Olympic campaigns for Visa and Pfizer, Ketchum Sports Marketing's Ann Wool thought she and her team would get a breather.

No chance.

"The sports calendar won't allow it," said Wool, director of the New York public relations firm's sports network.

After Salt Lake, she immediately jumped back into a Cingular campaign devoted to finding the 10 most expressive college basketball fans. Ketchum Sports Network has placed announcer Billy Packer on radio, including "The Jim Rome Show" and ESPN Radio, to promote the contest.

The 10 fans will be chosen March 28 based mainly on Internet and telephone entries and will be flown to Atlanta for the Final Four at the Georgia Dome. Ketchum will quickly pitch their hometown newspapers for stories and try to capture national coverage as well. Streaming video and sound bites of the chosen 10 will be posted at Cingular's Web site, and fans will vote there for a winner, who will attend the title game April 1.

David Sweet can be reached at dsweet@bizjournals.com.

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