SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Pepsi pairs Max and baseball, while MLB and A-B show unity

Terry Lefton
Buried beneath the noise generated by the NFL lockout and the NCAA basketball tournaments is the fact that the MLB season starts Thursday. Accordingly, sponsors are starting to activate.

Pepsi, an MLB corporate sponsor since 1997, and agency TBWA\Chiat\Day were scheduled to shoot an ad in Florida this past weekend featuring New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Joining them were a group of retirees, including Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk and Rollie Fingers. To the best of our recollection, the creative marks the first time Pepsi Max has been paired with MLB. Previously, the flagship Pepsi brand and its Aquafina water has featured MLB in ads.

Stay tuned to see if Max gets support in MLB ballparks as well. The new ad should hit the airwaves in May.

MLB comes into the season with a new sponsorship chief, Lou Koskovolis, senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing. Foremost among his duties in his first two months were renewing MasterCard, Bank of America and GM’s Chevrolet brand. We would have been surprised if any of those stalwarts didn’t renew, and while MLB officials are reluctant to confirm them until the deals were complete, Koskovolis said, “We are feeling good enough about all our renewals that were talking about activation in 2011 and beyond.”

On the new business front, Koskovolis said he is looking at various categories, including retail, candy/confection, consumer electronics, financial services and wireless, a category where the MLB/BAM division of assets and responsibilities is problematic, but one in which Koskovolis pledges to brainstorm across the league to find the right solution.

A-B and MLB’s relationship will be on display outside the New York Stock Exchange.
Easily the biggest offseason story in baseball business circles was the litigation filed back and forth between 30-year corporate sponsor Anheuser-Busch and MLB regarding a renewal. A-B insisted a deal was done; MLB said that it wasn’t and that changes in market dynamics after the NFL’s massive rights deal with A-B in May changed things. The sides reached a settlement at the end of the year, shortly before a trial date. To demonstrate to the business world that their association is repaired, the former litigants are planning a PR hit on MLB’s Opening Day at the seat of capitalism: the New York Stock Exchange.

MLB and A-B executives will ring the opening bell, while a visit by one or more Clydesdales is expected. One of the A-B/MLB signs hanging outside the NYSE will be no less than 72 feet wide and 37 feet high. “My history and relationship there is great, and we will be up on the podium with them [Anheuser-Busch] to show our relationship is as solid as ever,” Koskovolis said.

Other early-season marketing from MLB sponsors includes Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders brand debuting TV spots with Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Firestone will again sponsor in-stadium balloting for the MLB All-Star Game, while Scotts will return as the sponsor of the balloting at retail.

HOOPS HYPE II: Ben Sturner’s Leverage Agency has won a shootout to handle sales for a possible naming-rights deal at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Price for the unprecedented title sponsorship package is to be determined (SportsBusiness Journal, March 21-27 issue). Leverage’s prior naming-rights experience includes an effort to sell title rights for two of China’s marquee Olympic venues, the Bird’s Nest national stadium and the Water Cube aquatics center used to host competitions in the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

As an institution, the Basketball Hall Fame opened 52 years ago, but it moved to a $45 million, 80,000-square-foot building in 2002 along Interstate 91. The potential title sponsorship is supposed to be part of a larger effort to attract more corporate dollars to the hoops hall, by selling more levels of corporate involvement and corporate identification on galleries and exhibits, as well as the larger one on the building complex itself.

Along with the annual enshrinement ceremony, the hall of fame lends its name to a yearly high school tournament, now titled by Spalding. The hall of fame cited a lack of local financial support in moving this November’s collegiate Tip-Off Classic from Springfield’s MassMutual Center to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., a distance of about 70 miles.

QB SHUFFLE: Whether there will be a 2011 NFL season isunclear, but Michael Vick is one of 32 NFL players participating in an online vote to determine who will be on the cover of “Madden NFL 12.” More intriguing is the continuing marketing rehab of Vick, and the marketer who did Vick’s deal with EA to be part of the online
Does renewed interest in the QB spell a return of the “Michael Vick Experience”?
bracket-style vote. It is Chicago attorney Andrew Stroth, handpicked by the QB to secure marketing deals, which include a vacancy in the footwear/apparel categories.

To date, Vick’s post-incarceration endorsements have included low-hanging fruit like titanium bracelet, memorabilia and football pad deals. We are curious to see whether there is a national brand beyond EA with the temerity to employ Vick in its marketing, cognizant that Wieden & Kennedy’s “Michael Vick Experience” ad was one of the most memorable uses of an NFL QB in a spot since Joe Namath wore Hanes’ Beauty Mist pantyhose in 1973.

Stroth did much of the early marketing for Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade and he handles off-field activities for quarterback Donovan McNabb. Joel Segal, inducted last week into George Washington University’s Sports Executive Hall of Fame, continues to handle Vick’s playing contract.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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