SBJ/20081110/This Week's News

WBC expects higher ticket, retail sales numbers

The sales cycle for the 2009 World Baseball Classic is in full gear, with marked increases expected across all major revenue streams for the international tournament’s second edition.

Ticket sales have started for the 2009 event, set for March 5-23, with random drawings for the general public paired with pre-sale opportunities for season-ticket holders of the four MLB clubs that play in WBC host venues. General sales for the remaining tickets will begin Nov. 17 for the four first-round venues. Sales for the second-round, semifinal and championship games will begin Dec. 8.

Total attendance for the 39-game tournament is certain to surpass the 737,112 recorded for the inaugural event in 2006, as the 2009 version is playing in generally larger venues and now is an established event. Approaching 1 million in ticket sales is seen as a possibility.

“There’s a ton of excitement about this event, and for us, it really helps validate South Florida as a baseball market and why we went through so much to get a stadium deal,” said Florida Marlins President David Samson. The Marlins, hosting half of the second-round WBC games, are offering tournament tickets for those games to both Marlins and Miami Dolphins season-ticket holders as a separate purchase, with attendance of about 150,000 anticipated for the six scheduled Dolphin Stadium contests.

The renewal rate for Marlins season tickets is about 70 percent, some 20 percentage points higher than it normally would be at this time of year, Samson said. For a club that is believed to have the smallest season-ticket base in baseball, such sales lures are critical.

“Like everybody else, we went into the offseason concerned what kind of [sales] drop we might have because of the economy, but we’re up, and the WBC has definitely been a positive for us,” Samson said.

The other three MLB clubs playing host to WBC games are Toronto (first round), San Diego (second round) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (semifinals and final).

Advertising for the tournament, to be broadcast to 220 countries overall and domestically on ESPN and the fledgling MLB Network, will be handled by Grey Advertising and will break later this month.

On the sponsorship front, several packages have been sold on both a country-specific and global basis, though Paul Archey, MLB senior vice president for international business operations, declined to discuss specific countries.

Some sponsors, however, have purchased uniform patches. Industry sources said consumer electronics retailer Best Buy, which recently opened its first stores in Puerto Rico, is sponsoring that territory’s WBC squad and will have its logo on the team’s uniforms.

Merchandise such as these New Era
caps will hit the market by Dec. 1.

“Everyone in business is worried about the economy, but we’ve had such a good response from players, and our business partners are bullish,” Archey said. “Last time, we were out selling a concept. This time, people know what it is.”

Retailers drastically underestimated merchandise demand for the first WBC, so adjustments are being made this time around. WBC items will hit the market by Dec. 1, said Denis Nolan, newly installed as MLB vice president of international licensing. Champs, which has partnered with MLB on several initiatives including the annual Road Show merchandising effort at spring and summer music events, is once again a featured WBC retailer. Nolan said he is projecting at least a 15 percent increase in merchandise sale from the tournament over 2006.

MLB uniform rights holder Majestic Athletic will produce uniforms for all non-Asian teams, with New Era producing caps for those clubs. China, Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei have their own deals.

Nike holds performance-wear rights for all 16 WBC teams.

“We see a lot of potential in this as fans learn what a unique event this is,” said New Era President Peter Augustine.

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