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Volume 24 No. 155
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The Daily Hits 20: Memorable On-Air Promotions From Leagues, Networks

Here are some of the league and network on-air promotions that stood out over the last 20 years, for good or bad.

MLB: “Welcome to the Show” ('95)
MLB’s creative effort to reconnect with fans after the players’ strike used this tag line to return the league to its roots. Jeffrey Goodby, whose Goodby Silverstein & Partners assisted on the campaign, said, “Our job is to remind people of what’s good about the game, remind them about the whole experience of the game and why it’s No. 1 in your heart.”

NFL: “Pledge Allegiance” ('95)
The NFL’s major ad campaign during the '95 season featured fans across the country offering an oath to their local team, but this theme had odd timing and did not mesh with a league that had just seen two teams move out of Los Angeles, followed by the Browns’ abrupt exit from Cleveland. The “pledge” effort was later dropped in favor of the more-effective “Feel the Power” campaign.

A memorable quote from "Wayne's World"
inspired the NHL's "Game On" spots
NHL: “Game On” ('95)
Coming off its first lockout in '94-95, the NHL borrowed this slogan -- black hats included -- from the movie “Wayne’s World” to let fans know hockey was back. The TV spots featured street hockey scenes from the movie and a print campaign with the tag line: “Tape the sticks. Lace ’em up. Drop the puck.”

CFL: “Our Balls are Bigger” ('96)
Yes, the CFL actually ran this campaign in '96, along with its “Not American” effort. Both creatives were part of an in-your-face push that was well-received in Canada. Former CFL President Jeff Giles said, “The CFL’s tired of being kicked. It’s time to kick back.” The radically Canadian marketing strategy continued with a “One Tough Mother” campaign.

WNBA: “We Got Next” ('97)
Who can forget the fledgling women’s league’s initial ad creative, which was featured everywhere and drilled into fans’ heads by the NBA marketing team. Rebecca Lobo said, “People all the time walk by, mostly guys, yelling, ‘We got next.’”

NTRA: “Go Baby Go” ('98)
The NTRA’s inaugural awareness push in '98 featured actress Lori Petty jumping around and screaming this catchy tag line that would be the basis of the horse racing industry’s first national creative. But the Merkley Newman Harty-created campaign received criticism for its focus on wagering.

ESPN: “This is SportsCenter -- Y2K” ('99)
Wieden & Kennedy’s “This Is SportsCenter” campaign had many memorable entries over the years. Yet this popular spot in the midst of Y2K fears was always a favorite. The Bristol campus is sent into chaos when the electricity goes out due to Y2K testing. In the ensuing mayhem, which includes Mark McGwire smashing a computer with his bat, anchor Charlie Steiner, holding a lantern and looking at the camera wearing face paint and a necktie as a headband, famously screams, “Follow me! Follow me to freedom!”

PGA Tour: “These Guys are Good” ('00)
This tongue-in-cheek creative by Texas-based GSD&M showcased various PGA Tour players preparing for the season in off-beat ways, such as Sergio Garcia rolling a shopping cart across a parking lot and right into the cart storage. The campaign earned kudos for having a sense of humor and for humanizing traditionally staid golfers.

ATP: “New Balls Please” ('00)
The ATP used this campaign to drive the sex appeal of its younger players, but it was heavily criticized for ignoring veteran stars like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Sports Illustrated implied the ad was an “admission that the women’s healthy television ratings and buzz-creating magazine covers had created a classic case of Venus envy.”

MLB: “Superheroes” ('02)
This creative effort by MLB to promote the 2002 All-Star Game depicted players as juiced-up superheroes, and came at the same time as questions were being raised regarding players using steroids. The timing did not go unnoticed, as Michael Wilbon said of MLB, “Are they oblivious or just stupid or arrogant?” Commissioner Bud Selig was apparently never shown the commercials before their release.

NHL: “My NHL” ('05)
In the wake of a lockout that cost the entire '04-05 NHL season, the league rolled out a controversial series of cinematic “Warrior-style” ads following a nameless player on the day of a game, each ending with the tag line “My NHL.” The league said its strategy was to bring the fan inside the game, but many critics wondered why the NHL opted not to promote its stars after a labor stoppage.

Drug-Free America: “Shrinking” ('06)
MLB and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America created this dramatic anti-steroid spot featuring a deflating football, volleyball, baseball and basketball, with the not-so-subtle intention of communicating the damaging effects steroids have on the body. The voice-over says steroids can “damage kidneys, destroy the liver, even cause heart attacks and strokes. Not to mention something else they can do to a guy’s body.”

NCAA: “Going Pro” ('07)
To highlight the fact that most college athletes do not go on to a career in pro sports, the NCAA rolled out a series of PSAs in collaboration with Young & Rubicam that focused on student athletes and their post-collegiate jobs. The campaign continues to air today with the now ubiquitous tag line, “There are over 400,000 student athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.”

Versus: Tour de France “Take Back the Tour” ('08)
This controversial multimedia campaign tackled the issue of doping in cycling head-on in hopes of attracting viewers back after many high-profile scandals tainted the sport. The ad urges fans to tune in and “screw the dopers, politics and critics, the false allegations and the fair weather fans.”

WNBA: “Expect Great” ('08)
The WNBA used this campaign to directly target male sports fans and attempt to sway opinions of the league. The spots highlighted the strength and skill of WNBA players, and ran counter to previous ad efforts, which were aimed at women. Hilary Shaev, NBA vice president of marketing, said, “Some men have a misconception about the level of play in the league. In order to really grow the game, we actually need to target gatekeepers.”

ESPN: Billy Mays “ESPN360” ('08)
Bristol brass, in an effort to get the word out about the new ESPN360 platform, tapped one of the country’s best-known pitchmen, Billy Mays of informercial fame. ESPN’s Damon Phillips said, “The big piece of that campaign was really educating people on what ESPN360 is and really relying on some of the brand attributes of ESPN to interject humor into those spots.” Sadly, the network decided to pull the ads following Mays’ death in '09.

MLB Network: “Opening Day” ('09)
MLB Network promoted its first regular season with a creative campaign from McCann Erickson. The network promoted its yearlong coverage by running a montage of historic Opening Day moments. The nearly four-minute spot included William Howard Taft becoming the first president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch in 1910, Bob Feller throwing the only Opening Day no hitter in 1940, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 and MLB in 2000 opening in Tokyo for the first time.

ESPN: World Cup “Robben Island” ('10)
ESPN in its effort to build excitement around the '10 FIFA World Cup rolled out a series of moving commercials touting the significance of the event coming to South Africa, which for years was barred from such international competition because of apartheid. The spots tackled all of South Africa’s history, good and bad. Most notable was one spot highlighting the prison on Robben Island, which housed Nelson Mandela. A soundtrack captained by U2 added star power.

NFL Play60: Arthur Blank “Bus” ('10)
The NFL kept the beat alive in this edition of its “Play 60” campaign. The spot was filled with energy and an infectious rhythm. The effort felt authentic and the children, players, coaches, mascots and even Falcons owner Arthur Blank looked genuine in their joy. The spot promoted childhood activity, exercise and good will. But perhaps best of all, the bus looked fun.

ESPN: “This is SportsCenter -- John Clayton” ('12)
ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton’s much-guarded off-camera life as a Slayer fan was revealed at last in this fantastic ad. The spot, which many felt was the best in campaign history, trended worldwide on Twitter following its release. Newsday’s Neil Best tweeted, “The fact @claytonespn is trending worldwide right now is a reminder life is absurd, but mostly in a good way.”