SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Silverado promotion just wasn’t in the cards

A sense of unease was present even before MLB and Chevrolet rehearsed their planned “Silverado Strong” card-flip promotion for last week’s Game 5 of the World Series. Then league and company executives saw the full-size visual of what they planned and immediately knew they had a problem.

“There was some apprehension going into this. We had to see it in full, but once we did, it certainly didn’t take that long to make a decision,” said Michael Albano, Chevrolet director of communications.

The placards distributed in St. Louis before Game 5 were never used, after MLB and Chevrolet execs decided late in the afternoon not to go through with the “Silverado Strong” card stunt.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The automaker had intended to stage a large-scale promotion during the game to spotlight its 2014 Silverado truck and its efforts with MLB to promote youth baseball participation. The plan involved distributing colored placards throughout the Busch Stadium seating bowl that spelled out “Silverado Strong,” the vehicle’s promotional tag line since July. Hall of famer and St. Louis Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith was scheduled to appear in the top of the third inning to lead a raising of the placards live on Fox. And as players began to stretch and throw early that afternoon before the Oct. 28 game, dozens of staffers were carefully placing the cards in seats in the seating bowl to get the letters organized for maximum impact.

But about 2 p.m. Central time, the joint MLB-Chevrolet rehearsal began and illuminated the stark reality: The image of “Silverado Strong” bore too much similarity to the “Boston Strong” slogan that has become a New England rallying cry following the Boston Marathon bombings in April. The “Boston Strong” logo also was mowed into the outfield grass at Fenway Park, further highlighting the juxtaposition between the messaging at the two World Series ballparks. As a result, the Silverado promotion carried significant risk of being perceived as offensive.

As MLB and Chevrolet huddled between 4 and 6 p.m. to evaluate their options, reporters already in the ballpark for Game 5 that evening saw the “Silverado Strong” placards in the seats and tweeted out what they saw, quickly igniting a social media stir around the project. By late afternoon, Chevrolet marketers on the scene in St. Louis were deep in discussions with executives back at the company’s Detroit headquarters on unwinding its plans. By 6:10, a final decision to cancel the promotion was made, and MLB and Chevrolet spent much of the next hour drafting and vetting a formal statement. Shortly before the first pitch at 7:07 p.m., the announcement was made publicly.
There is no plan for any sort of make-good effort around the canceled promotion, but Chevrolet remains firmly behind the “Strong” marketing campaign for the Silverado, an effort that includes a specially written song.

“We’re of course very sensitive to what’s happened in Boston. But this has been a very successful campaign for the Silverado and there are no plans to change it,” Albano said.

RAISING A VILLAGE: The Busch Stadium World Series games provided a chance to peek into the progress of Ballpark Village, the long-delayed, mixed-use development now under construction just beyond the ballpark’s left-center-field wall. The $100 million Phase I of the project, slated to open in the spring, will include a Cardinals-themed restaurant, a Hall of Fame and Museum devoted to the club, a western-themed bar, a concert and event space, and a 330-seat rooftop seating area bearing similarity to the Wrigley Field rooftop seats. Cardinals executives during the World Series gave several private tours of the project, which originally had been designed to quickly follow the ballpark’s 2006 opening but ran into years of financing issues before finally breaking ground in February.
 
“There’s definitely now a new set of expectations given people can actually see the reality of this rising up and happening,” Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said. “We always knew it was going to take getting a shovel into the ground to have people fully realize and understand what we’re doing. But it’s very exciting. And the best part is how people are continually remarking about how it looks from inside the stadium like an extension of the ballpark itself.”

Ballpark Village is not expected to produce higher club payrolls, at least not in the short term.
“We’re not counting on this as incremental budget revenue for a while,” DeWitt said. “We have a partnership with the Cordish Co. which included a big upfront investment that has not yet been recouped. But we’re very optimistic on the prospects of this project, and in the meantime, there are also a lot of benefits in terms of ancillary branding around the Cardinals.”

MERCHANDISE MEASURES: Howard Smith, MLB senior vice president of licensing, acknowledged he thought before this year’s World Series that demand for Cardinals gear could be diminished, given the club’s appearance in the Fall Classic just two years ago and no presence of a hot fad like 2011’s “Rally Squirrel.” But Busch Stadium crowds for Games 3-5 were the three largest in the ballpark’s seven-year history and massive lines formed to buy merchandise, just a few of the indicators showing otherwise.

“On paper, you’d think we would be behind, but we’re actually ahead of ’11,” Smith said. “The Cardinals have done everything right here, and there are just incredible fans here that continue to vote with their hearts and wallets. Are we doing [San Francisco] Giants kinds of numbers [from 2012]? No, but St. Louis continues to a very strong, very vibrant market. And Boston, of course, is everything they’ve been in the past.”

ESPN DUALITY: ESPN had a combined crew of more than 300 staffers in St. Louis for its coverage of the Oct. 28 “Monday Night Football” game between Seattle and the Rams, and its ESPN Radio and “Baseball Tonight” coverage of the World Series. The confluence marked the first time since 1986 that a World Series game and “MNF” game were played in the same market and same night.

The football crew stayed in the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown St. Louis, the baseball crew at the nearby Hilton, the result of separate lodging reservations made months apart. But aside from a few senior production and public relations personnel, there was minimal working overlap between the two crews.

“These are separate, autonomous operations, and until just a few days before the Series, we of course had no idea we’d all be here together,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, who oversees both “Baseball Tonight” and “MNF.” “From an on-air sense, it’s more or less as if they’re still hundreds of miles apart.
“But for me, it’s sort of nirvana, being able to see everybody. Usually, I’m having to choose one thing and miss the other at this time of year. It’s been great,” he said.

“Mike and Mike in the Morning” did a special remote production that morning from the football stadium. And two of ESPN’s highest-profile TV productions got a rare opportunity for some off-time fraternization.

“We had some of the ‘Baseball Tonight’ guys watching Sunday afternoon football with us as we were getting ready for Monday night’s broadcast,” Drake said.

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