SBJ/July 21-27, 2014/Events and Attractions

MLB exceeds its goals ‘by nearly every measure’

It’s the updated version of “If you build it, they will come.”

When you put an MLB All-Star Game in the heartland, on-the-ground results are convincing. League officials were pleased with the television ratings for the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game, which won the evening for rights holders ESPN and Fox. Other highlights were a well-received Imagine Dragons concert Saturday night, a 5K Color Run on Sunday that drew 28,000 — close to four times the usual crowd — and tributes to the retiring Derek Jeter and Commissioner Bud Selig.

On the partner side, sponsor activation included Gillette and Pepsi using MLB to back significant product launches, as well as TV ads from sponsors Chevy, Nike, Pepsi and Target.

Throw in vibrant sales for licensed merchandise and a raft of community events that exceed any previous midsummer classic, and officials were more than satisfied.

“By nearly every measure, we exceeded planned goals,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business, in the MLB suite last Tuesday night. “Everything you look for in an All-Star Week we got a plus on, and when you see our farewells to Jeter and the commissioner, and what sponsors like Chevy, Gillette, T-Mobile and Pepsi were doing here to activate, we have to be pleased.”

A crowd of 41,048 filled Target Field for the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
Photo by: ICON SMI
After a 2013 All-Star Game in which Pepsi surprisingly chose to activate against its Lipton brand, it was back to embracing the game with the brand’s biggest summer campaign. “You’ll see a lot more focus from us on brand Pepsi,” said Adam Harter, vice president of consumer engagement. “We’re trying to ensure all of our biggest sports properties are applied to our biggest brands.”

FanFest attendance was 114,878 visitors, a number that MLB officials said compared favorably to smaller All-Star Game markets of recent vintage, like Phoenix and Kansas City. Last year’s FanFest in New York City attracted 129,849.

DIFFERENT CONNECTION: In its second All-Star Game since signing on as an MLB corporate patron in January 2013, T-Mobile was easily of the one of the most active sponsors, with its title sponsorship of FanFest, retail activation, sponsorship of the Color Run, dugout and bullpen signage and three spots that ran during Fox’s game broadcast. In addition, it had All-Stars, including Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, touting the carrier’s data-handling capabilities on social media.

Mike Belcher, T-Mobile vice president of sponsorships and media, said its tie to MLB has helped increase brand awareness and purchase consideration metrics.

T-Mobile’s signature color was prominent at FanFest, where it was title sponsor.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
However, one of the prominent activation platforms when T-Mobile signed on was a branded communication that was intended to replace landline dugout phones to the bullpen with cellphones. Those plans, hindered by technical challenges and the reality that competitive wireless brands are a top-level sponsor at many MLB parks, have been scrapped. Instead, T-Mobile is leading an aggressive connectivity enhancement program across baseball. Six parks, including Target Field, have been upgraded in cooperation with MLB Advanced Media, and Belcher said T-Mobile plans to have nearly every park upgraded by the start of next season.

“We needed to shift our focus to making sure we reduced the pain points our customershave around baseball,” said Belcher, during anappearance by Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins at a downtown T-Mobile store. “They want to Facebook, they want to tweet, they want to do Snapchat and they want to do it at the ballpark. That experience isn’t optimal. … We are focused right now on making sure the wireless experience at the ballparks is excellent, because customers expect it.”

DERBY DO-OVER?: Seventeen years after Gillette last sponsored the Home Run Derby, it returned, linking the event to the massive launch of its priciest razor ever, the Fusion ProGlide Flexball. Completing that deal in June made retail activation challenging. Still, Gillette’s global director of sports marketing, Greg Via, seemed happy, even with a rain delay lengthening the event by an hour. ESPN’s ratings were a mixed bag: A 3.4 final rating was the lowest in 12 years, but it was still the top-rated cable show that night.

Gillette/Flexball branding dominated Target Field with scoreboard, LED and outfield “targets.” On the concourse, fans could shave or be shaved in a “grooming lounge.” Hall of famer Frank Thomas did a retail appearance at Target, which included a Twitter selfie. Other social media ties included ticket giveaways and players using the product.

Gillette linked its return as Home Run Derby sponsor to the launch for its newest razor.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
As for a possible renewal of a property that has been a difficult sell in recent years? We note (as do MLB marketers, no doubt) that the 2015 All-Star Game will be in Cincinnati, headquarters of Gillette parent Procter & Gamble, which should provide some rationale. However, Via insisted more analysis was necessary first. “Certainly, it was great to have all those media impressions, but we’re about driving the [social media] conversation and selling razors,” Via said. “We really have to see what moved in those two areas before we have a meaningful conversation about doing it again.”

REDS REIGN: The Cincinnati Reds are on deck as next year’s All-Star Game host club, and sent a 30-person contingent to Minneapolis to shadow their Twins counterparts during the week. The traveling group was supplemented by officials from the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County and the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Great American Ball Park All-Star Game will in many ways resemble this year’s version, with nearly all events concentrated in a tight, walkable downtown core and another midmarket setting.

“The Twins have done a great job, and we see a lot of similarities between what’s going on here and what we’ll do next year,” said Phil Castellini, the Reds’ chief operating officer. “This is going to be a great platform to showcase our downtown and riverfront, and something that will take over our town.”

Much like what the Twins did this year with its large group of Hall of Fame players, the Reds plan to actively engage their player alumni for next year’s All-Star Game. But the Reds have a lightning rod issue there in the form of local hero Pete Rose, banned from baseball since 1989 but still beloved in Cincinnati.

At the Color Run: MLB’s Tim Brosnan, the Twins’ Dave St. Peter, former Twin Doug Mientkiewicz, singer Kat Perkins; Color Run’s Travis Snyder, hall of famer Dave Winfield, actor Rob Riggle, former Twin Scott Erickson.
Photo by: MLB
The Reds over the years have included Rose in several special commemorative events, each time with the permission of MLB. Commissioner Bud Selig said last week the nature of Rose’s All-Star Game involvement will be driven by the Reds and said, “They know what they can and can’t do. … It’s sort of subjective. They’ve done some things with Pete, but they’ve been very, very thoughtful and limited.”

The specific details surrounding Rose have yet to be determined, and will be a delicate matter leading up to next year’s game. Amplifying the issue is 2015 being the 40th anniversary of the first of two World Series titles for Cincinnati’s famed Big Red Machine. Rumors have also intensified in recent weeks
Photo by: TRAVIS SNYDER / THE COLOR RUN
that Selig could pardon Rose just before Selig’s planned retirement in January, but the commissioner last week declined to address that.

“Pete will be there one way or another,” Castellini said of next year’s All-Star Game.

Several other logistical questions remain, such as whether and where to hold an All-Star Game concert similar to this year’s successful Imagine Dragons show at the
A free concert headlined by Imagine Dragons was a hit, drawing more than 25,000 people to TCF Bank Stadium on the Saturday before the game.
Photo by: MLB
University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, and where to stage a repeat of this year’s popular Color Run.

The Reds have scheduled a logo unveiling for Aug. 6, an event that will formally begin the run-up toward next year’s game. But rather than a simple unveiling, the logo will also be emblazoned on bobbleheads that will be given to fans. That means the logo design process was completed last winter, months ahead of MLB’s usual timetable, to allow production time for the bobbleheads. But Castellini said the league was accommodating in the club’s unusual request to incorporate the logo more deeply into its late-season promotional activities.

Running point for the Reds’ All-Star preparations is Zach Bonkowski, senior director of promotional events and player relations.

RENEWABLE RESOURCES: MLB has a few sponsorship renewals coming up, including Taco Bell, a corporate sponsor since 2004; Firestone, in the fifth year of its original deal, and Bayer, a corporate patron since 2008.

The most difficult renewal will be Bayer. The health care company was invisible in Minneapolis, outside of its requisite FanFest activation. Moreover, Bayer has been consumed with integration since its $14.2 billion acquisition of Merck’s consumer businesses last May. Of course, the absence of Bayer could portend the expansion of MLB’s Procter & Gamble sponsorship, which now supports the Head & Shoulders and Gillette brands.

Meanwhile, standing next to a 5-foot-tall monstertruck tire for its MLB-branded Bigfoot truck at FanFest, Bridgestone/Firestone’s vice president of consumer marketing, Phil Pacsi, noted that an All-Star promotion across the company-owned Tires Plus chain in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa in the weeks before the event was a huge success. Pacsi said MLB has provided Firestone with a valuable link to the Hispanic market over its five years. He said renewal discussions would begin after last week’s events.

“The conversation we have with every property is
Sponsors on parade (top to bottom): Bud at bat, Pepsi goes big, a Firestone-Bigfoot sighting, and a seams-to-be Chevrolet.
Photos by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
about maximizing our sponsorship dollars to deliver more value,” he said.

Aside from FanFest and advertising in game, Firestone sponsored fireworks at the Saturday concert and part of the Sunday Color Run.

“Coming off an All-Star Game like this one, we’ve shown the value of our property,” Brosnan said.

RENEWABLE RESOURCES 2: With few changes, MLB has quietly completed the renewal of its top licensees, including the extension of Majestic’s authentic jersey rights, which are 9 years old, and New Era’s on-field cap exclusive, which began in
1994. While some licensees expected an announcement timed at or around the All-Star Game, sources in Minneapolis said the league was delaying, in deference to the tributes planned for Selig and Jeter. A second-half announcement is in the works.

LICENSING LOVE: As at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, those not wearing MLB-logoed apparel in downtown Minneapolis were definitely in the minority. An 18,000-square-foot store at FanFest
gave licensees more room than ever to display their wares. Most expressed optimism after a flat year in 2013 for MLB licensed goods.

“Baseball is so ingrained here, we’re seeing sales that are rivaling St. Louis,” said, Jim Pisani, president of VF licensed sports group.

New Era’s innovation was to market All-Star Game caps for every team, as opposed to past years, when players wore everyday caps with an All-Star patch
New Era’s new team-centric caps provided a sales increase of 385 percent over last year.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
added. The result was a 385 percent sales increase over last year. “The All-Star Game is a great launching pad,” said New Era President Pete Augustine, “but what’s really encouraging is that sales are strong for those across the country.”

INTERNATIONAL LEANINGS: Next year’s MLB schedule is now in its final stages of development before its scheduled release in September, and another overseas regular-season trip is likely to happen, league sources said, and perhaps even multiple trips. After a successful visit in March to Australia with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, representing MLB’s first games there, and several trips to Asia in prior years, Europe is now a prominent focus of attention for MLB overseas play.

Baseball’s international business in continental Europe historically has been much weaker than its activities in the Far East and Latin America. But in recent years, MLB has been particularly focused in promoting the development of MLB-caliber stadiums on the continent, including one in Hoofddorp, Netherlands. The Dutch in a fairly short period of time have developed one of the best baseball programs in Europe, and its club last year reached the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. And like the other major U.S. sports leagues, MLB is increasingly keen on the power and size of the London market.

Earlier this season, Selig hinted that MLB was looking to stage games next year in a location that will “surprise” people. A variety of countries around the world could satisfy that description. But sources said the other element under consideration is playing the overseas games at some point during the middle of the season, rather than a season-opening event that has been the custom. That would the limit the possibilities to countries within reasonable travel distance. But in-season international games hold the potential to provide a greater spotlight to the sport’s fast-growing overseas interests.

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