SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Events and Attractions

K.C. delivers for league, fans, sponsors

Kansas City, MLB’s third-smallest market and home to the long-struggling Royals, outperformed its size and image by serving up an All-Star Game that was by far one of the league’s strongest.

In virtually every relevant measure, the event produced sizable gains over the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix and 2010 game in Anaheim. While TV ratings on Fox for the July 10 game were down by four one-hundredths of a point to a new low, Home Run Derby ratings on ESPN increased 3 percent, attendance at Kauffman Stadium set records since a $250 million renovation finished in 2009, social media activity related to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game tripled last year’s levels, and early projections are for final FanFest attendance numbers to also show growth.

Even the Sunday Futures Game sold out and posted just a 17.5 percent no-show rate. As little as two years ago, no-show rates easily exceeded 40 percent for the game, buoyed by fans who bought up ticket strips for all three days but wanted access only to the other two events.

Even the Futures Game sold out, another strong metric for the overall event.
Photo by: ICON SMI
Buzz during the week among visitors from around the industry was high regarding Kansas City’s ability to pull off what was likely the most complex and high-profile sports event in the city’s history. By the afternoon of July 10, a few hours before the All-Star Game, an ebullient MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was beaming about the performance of the Royals and Kansas City at large.

“It’s been really wonderful. Every event has been sold out, even the Futures Game. All the events have been good,” Selig said. “I think as you watch what’s happening in this community, you see how important it is. It’s an uplifting event, to say the least, and the Royals have really gone the extra mile to make this happen.”

The reasons for Kansas City’s strong performance are many. While the All-Star Game itself was a dud given the National League’s easy 8-0 win, this year’s event did not suffer from mass player defections like a year ago, in part because of new rules in the labor deal. Public officials were highly engaged, again not a surprise given the All-Star Game’s size and importance relative to most other sports events held in Kansas City. Baseball at large is in the midst of a significant resurgence at the gate and on TV in most markets. And unlike areas such as California and Arizona with high amounts of transient populations, Kansas City has many residents who grew up in the area with baseball and the Royals.

“We couldn’t be happier with how our fans and this town responded,” said Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president of business operations.

Uhlich’s comment, however, came a few hours before the locals angrily booed New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano for not selecting Royals designated hitter Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby. Selig said the league will now consider a rule change requiring a player from the host club take part in the derby.

SPONSOR ACTIVATION: Chevrolet was easily the most active MLB sponsor in Kansas City, a fact even the most casual fan could see. The automaker’s exhaustive range of activities included a test-drive track at Kauffman Stadium to try out the Camaro ZL1 and Corvette, a heightened FanFest presence, numerous vehicle displays, the awarding of a ZL1 to All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera of San Francisco, and the earlier relaunch of the 38-year-old “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet” ad campaign using players such as
Detroit stars Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.

“We’re just showing people our passion for baseball, and getting fans here exposed to our product lineup, which has turned over almost completely in the last two years,” said Chris Perry, Chevrolet vice president of global marketing. “So we use the attraction of baseball to generate leads and change consumer opinion about the brand.”

MLB sponsors (from top) Pepsi, Chevrolet and State Farm were in Kansas City.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Bank of America, meanwhile, tied much of its activation to the military, logical given the All-Star Game’s locale this year in America’s heartland. The bank raised funds for the USO at nearby Fort Riley and teamed with the league and Royals on a rebuild at a local VA facility.

“This is a microcosm of our MLB relationship,” said Charles Greenstein, Bank of America senior vice president of sponsorship marketing. “Lot of locally relevant ties, but with a strong-enough national overlay that it can be meaningful in all of our important markets.”

State Farm also went deep on cause-related marketing in addition to its continued title sponsorship of the Home Run Derby, helping rebuild homes for areas devastated by tornadoes, an example of which was displayed in the sponsor zone outside the stadium.

Scotts, in its third year as an MLB sponsor, said it has found the league deal and eight companion baseball team relationships to be an incremental driver of sales and marketing support at key retailers such as Lowe’s and Ace Hardware. The grass seed company again sponsored All-Star Game balloting at Lowe’s. Aided by consultant Wasserman Media Group, Scotts is preparing a fall program to tie into the postseason that reminds consumers of the importance of autumn planting for grass.

Kauffman Stadium welcomed three crowds of more than 40,000.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
“Aside from a brand fit that is particularly endemic with Scotts and MLB, the sponsorship has really helped us push further into retail,” said Chris Strunk, Scotts sports marketing manager.

And Pepsi, not surprisingly, was relentless in the sampling of its Pepsi Max low-calorie soft drink. But less traction was evident for its Field of Dreams program, which in its second year provides the chance for a fan to play baseball against a team of MLB legends.

LICENSING LINES: In a baseball-crazed town like Kansas City, licensed product was dominant and licensees were all smiles. Even outside of the All-Star Game locale, some of the sport’s largest apparel licensees have found room for considerable growth in what’s generally a mature licensed apparel market.

Leading the charge was VF’s Majestic brand, which holds the league’s on-field jersey rights. Demand for new uniforms for Miami, Baltimore and Toronto, and new contenders such as Pittsburgh and Washington, have rocketed Majestic’s jersey sales upward by more than 30 percent, said Jim Pisani, president of VF’s licensed sports group.

“Teams like Miami are on fire, saleswise, and you had big names like Albert Pujols or new names like Bryce Harper and good stories in towns like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the Mets generating new sales.”

Both player name and number jerseys and T-shirts from Majestic were ubiquitous around Kansas City.

Silver Crystal Sports customized a thousand Majestic jerseys in five days at the FanFest.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
At FanFest, Silver Crystal Sports’ touch-screen Fanzone system produced customized name and number all-star jerseys in 10 minutes or less. Company Chief Executive Jeffery Silver said Silver Crystal Sports produced a thousand customized Majestic jerseys in five days.

Nike, meanwhile, also is seeing baseball sales up by 15 percent to 20 percent over 2011, and its swoosh was readily visible around town between its existing MLB underlayer rights and its new “I Play For …” T-shirts aimed at marketing American League or National League loyalty. Beyond just year-over-year comparisons, Nike’s baseball business has nearly doubled since the 2008-09 recession, said John Slusher, Nike vice president of global sports marketing.

The 11,000-square-foot MLB Clubhouse Store at FanFest was by far its best ever in terms of product selection, segmentation and marketing support. First-time retailers there included Allen Edmonds, showing its MLB-logoed boat shoes.

“Retail is detail,” said New Era Cap President Pete Augustine. “We have enough of our stores now [12] that we know how true that is.”

Head-turning new products in the baseball licensing space, however, were few and far between, with the possible notable exception of a fragrance being marketed with a New York Yankees logo and pinstripes. A recent deal between the MLB Players Association and New Era should create the first New Era caps with player names and numbers later this summer. Also new is a license with Zazzle through which consumers can access a digital library of players and design their apparel online at Zazzle.com.

METS ON THE CLOCK: The New York Mets took their turn as next year’s All-Star Game host club, sending a 23-person contingent to Kansas City to shadow Royals and MLB staffers.

The Mets face a unique challenge for next year’s game trying to provide a different look and feel to the All-Star Game compared with just four years ago, when the game was in New York at old Yankee Stadium. That 2008 game set several event sales and revenue records that still stand and generated roughly twice as much economic impact as any other All-Star Game, providing a further daunting comparison. But Mets officials said they are not focusing on the past.

“We don’t view that game as competition,” said Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president of business operations. “We’re very excited about next year, and are confident we will help deliver a wonderful experience for the city, our fans, and the visitors coming into town for this.”

FanFest next year will be held at the Javits Convention Center, just as it was in 2008, and the Red Carpet Parade will again be in midtown Manhattan, though likely traveling a route different from the one four years ago. But the Mets and MLB will aim to make Citi Field itself the star of the show as much as possible.

“The ballpark is really going to be the keynote,” Howard said.

Aramark will play a key role as the Citi Field concessionaire. While many visitors to Kansas City during the week took tours of the city’s famed barbecue restaurants, Citi Field could serve as next year’s All-Star culinary hub; the ballpark has repeatedly won plaudits as one of the best sports facilities for food options.

The Mets last week also completed a ticket promotion in which current and new season-ticket holders committing for the 2013 season will be allowed to buy tickets for next year’s All-Star Game in quantities as much as three times the size of their accounts. More than 70 percent of the Mets’ season-ticket base took the club up on the offer, giving them a renewal percentage for the coming season typically not present until the early fall.

“The response was very favorable, and it gives us the added benefit of freeing us up that much more to pursue new business,” Howard said.

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