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St. Louis sets new tone for All-Star Game

If one still needs an indicator of how much the world has changed over the past year, look no further than the MLB All-Star Game.

This year’s annual midsummer classic, set for July 14 in St. Louis, will feature dramatically lower ticket prices on both the primary and secondary markets than last year’s extravaganza in New York. A projected host-market economic impact of $60 million from the game reverts from last year’s unprecedented sum of nearly $150 million to a much more historically normal figure. And virtually none of the high-dollar glitz and hype of last year’s record-setting affair at old Yankee Stadium is present in this year’s planning.

With the economic recession still in full force and conspicuous consumption now passé, MLB and the host club Cardinals have deftly transformed the All-Star Game into a high-profile vehicle for community service and charity. The type of charitable actions and elements of service that in prior years have been secondary parts of the midseason showcase this year will comprise the game’s primary theme.

MLB expects to generate about $5 million in donations for a variety of national and local causes, including Stand Up To Cancer, the Cardinals Care organization and the St. Louis Sports Commission’s charitable foundation. Additional elements include a nationwide collaborative effort with People magazine for All-Stars Among Us, which will showcase ordinary citizens doing great things in their local communities, and a coordination with United We Serve, the service initiative launched by President Obama, who will throw out the first pitch at the game.

This year’s All-Star Game at Busch Stadium will
have lower ticket prices and new charity offerings.

MLB sponsors will also participate in a series of cause-related marketing efforts, such as recycling campaigns from Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch (see related story). In addition, youth participation in baseball and softball will be spotlighted around town, including at a temporary softball field being constructed on the still-developing Ballpark Village project across from Busch Stadium.

“This tone we have is simply the right thing to do given this economy and the climate in which we live,” said Ron Watermon, Cardinals director of government affairs and special projects and the club’s point man on the All-Star Game efforts. “We expect this to be a very special and unique event and one with an extensive legacy of leave-behinds.”

The Cardinals had made those legacy elements a core part of their bid to host the All-Star Game, submitted more than two years ago. MLB also already knew there was no hope of repeating many of the fiscal records set a year ago with the game being played in the nation’s largest city, New York. But after last fall’s collapse of the world financial markets and the subsequent economic spiral into recession, the development of plans that would more prominently showcase the charitable efforts connected to the game assumed a much higher priority and point of emphasis.

Banners and MLB-themed arches
dot downtown, which will host
the festivities.

Still, many involved in the St. Louis All-Star effort have found that doing good has also represented good business. People magazine, for example, has found new audiences through the extension of its existing Heroes Among Us recognitions.

“This campaign has expanded our reach beyond women to men and their families, and broadened the exposure of our Heroes platform,” said Susan Parkes, vice president of marketing for the style and entertainment group at People parent Time Inc. Online voting for the All-Stars Among Us finalists has extended well into six figures, and exposure for the People brand in St. Louis will culminate in an on-field, pregame ceremony.

The charitable focus puts the game in line with similar efforts at showcase events by other major leagues, such as the NBA Cares platform that runs a Day of Service at the NBA All-Star Game.

On a logistical scale, the events of this year’s MLB All-Star Game — heavily concentrated in St. Louis’ downtown core — will make for the kind of tight footprint seen in Pittsburgh for the 2006 game and in San Francisco in 2007, compared with last year’s far-flung affair that stretched between several parts of Manhattan and the Bronx. Nearly all events will be within walking distance this year. Because of that, MLB was able to shift its large-scale gala party back to its traditional Monday night slot (hosting it at the Ballpark Village site) after having to stage the event on Sunday night (away from Yankee Stadium) last year.

The Cardinals and MLB, meanwhile, intend to challenge New York’s numbers on at least one key score: FanFest attendance. Last year’s five-day turnout of 135,000 set a record.

MLB did not reduce peak ticket prices for the interactive fan event from $30 for adults and $25 for children and seniors. Comparatively, the peak price for tickets to the All-Star Game itself was cut by more than half, from $725 in 2008 to $360 this year. But St. Louis ranks high among baseball markets for both its multigenerational fan base and for having legions of fans willing to travel from hundreds of miles away. Additionally, the Cardinals included FanFest tickets in full-season-ticket plans and several of the club’s mini-plans, a new wrinkle MLB intends to repeat in future years.

The salesmanship extended to game-ticket locations. All-Star hosts with tighter seating capacities and large season-ticket bases — of which the Cardinals are one, with 29,000 full-season equivalents — typically encounter friction between MLB sponsor needs for tickets and the desires of the hometown fan base. The Cardinals, however, offered two upper-level All-Star Game tickets for every lower-level one held by a season-ticket holder who opted to move for the game.

“We could go for the carrot or stick on this,” Watermon said. “We opted for the carrot, and it’s been well-received.”

Staff writers Terry Lefton and John Ourand contributed to this report.

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