SBJ/December 10-16, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MiLB focuses on national marketing

Minor League Baseball is revamping its national marketing efforts, developing a new unified program called “Project Brand” aimed at striking deep corporate partnerships as opposed to simply selling ballpark and media inventory.

Project Brand seeks in part to build upon the collective revenue development efforts of the Baseball Internet Rights Co., the affiliated minors digital rights venture with MLB Advanced Media. The BIRCO deal, renewed earlier this year for the 2013-15 seasons, creates a common digital platform for MiLB and shares revenue generated through online advertising, multimedia content and other similar efforts.

Project Brand in much the same way will seek to create more joint revenue by expanding the presence of national and international brands within Minor League Baseball. Since Pat O’Conner’s arrival to the MiLB presidency in 2007, he has repeatedly pushed individual minor league clubs to set aside provincialism in the name of the greater overall good. Minor league team operators were briefed on Project Brand last week at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville.

As part of the developing effort, MiLB has retained executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to hire a chief marketing officer who would run Project Brand day-to-day and report directly to O’Conner. Candidate interviews have begun, and MiLB intends to name the CMO around Feb. 1.

“We’ve been far too reliant historically on marketing our standard inventory in and around our ballparks,” O’Conner said. “Brand marketers tell us they’re looking now for something more dynamic and strategic, programs that can also get into [product] sampling, digital marketing, charitable giving and cause-related efforts, and so forth.”

MiLB executives declined to specify projected revenue targets for Project Brand. Once it is fully operational, MiLB will seek major corporate partnerships, each carrying terms of multiple years with at least mid-seven-figure commitments annually.

A key part of the pitch of Project Brand will be MiLB’s reach. The affiliated minors features 160 U.S.-based clubs, covering nearly every major domestic media market.

MiLB’s existing national marketing efforts, which date to 1993, are relatively modest. O’Conner said last week the program has returned $23.6 million to clubs over the past decade.

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