The 2014 season promises to be a milestone year for Major League Baseball. In addition to a roster of returning marketing partners, MLB has first-year alliances with companies such as Church & Dwight, Target and Viacom/MTV.
New lead advertising agency BBDO NY helped to usher in Opening Day games with commercials under the theme, “For the Love of Baseball,” including spots starring Los Angeles Angels’ perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout in a scenario in which he follows Simon Says instructions from a young fan; and David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), who has nicknames for everything in his life, including his pitches, sunflower seeds, gum and Cy Young Award. MLB says that additional spots this season will feature Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen.
The launch campaign from BBDO also included a spot that looks at what makes baseball parks unique, and another that recounted baseball events that have occurred on past opening days and then asked, “Where will you be on Opening Day?”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of an alliance with ESPN, in addition to the start of a new eight-year deal between MLB and ESPN, signed in 2012 and valued at $5.6 billion, according to industry analysts. A multilevel campaign will include TV ads, social media and a series of ESPN-produced 25th season commemorative vignettes that will celebrate each major league team. One vignette will be unveiled each week across ESPN platforms.
Also making an impact this season: Regular season games that were played for the first time in Australia (between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks); expanded instant replay, including for the first time a centralized location in New York that will oversee all replay calls; new in-game rules, led by one designed to avoid collisions at home plate; and the Derek Jeter farewell tour, which will see the New York Yankees’ shortstop playing in his last season in an MLB career that began in 1995.
“When I started in 1992, [revenue] was $1.2 billion, and I’m proud of where we are today,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said during a media conference call to talk about the 2014 season and the 25th anniversary with ESPN. “I have hopes for $9 billion. I don’t know that we’ll make that this year, but we may. How high can it go? If this sport continues to make the progress at all levels, international and everything else, I’ve often said I hope I’m around ten years from now to see it because I think it’s going to be amazing. It can go a lot higher.”
MLB posted a $25.9 million ad spend in 2013, up from $18.7 million in 2012 and $11.9 million in 2011, according to marketing and research firm Kantar Media.
Tim Brosnan, executive VP for business at Major League Baseball, speaks here (from a perch at the MLB Fan Cave in New York) about the marketing, changes, excitement and challenges facing baseball this year.
There is a lot happening this season, including some milestone events, new partners, a new ad agency and Derek Jeter’s finial season. What is your assessment of 2014 as the season begins?
It is a very exciting time for baseball. We have a strong roster of marketing partners that are returning and are putting a lot behind their support for the game. We’re also looking at great support from our new partners. We just signed a deal with Church & Dwight, which has a lot of potential. They are all in. Arm & Hammer and OxiClean are the [lead] products. But they have an entire family of products. This is important as a new media buy. This will give us a deep presence at retail.
When did discussions with Church & Dwight begin and where do you see it progressing?
Church & Dwight has been on our radar for some time. Their CEO, Jim Craigie, is enamored with baseball. They are baseball fans. They have naming rights to Arm & Hammer Park, home of the Trenton [N.J.] Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. They like the fact that MLB goes March to November and that they can reach so many people across the country. After some initial conversations it came together quickly. They are baseball fans. This puts us in new places reaching baseball fans and new demographics. Their Arm & Hammer and OxiClean brands have so many products, so we see them as becoming an incredibly strong partner for baseball.
The NFL and Procter and Gamble formed an alliance in 2009 that has seen several of P&G’s products successfully expand among NFL teams to reach NFL fans and consumers. Is the Church & Dwight partnership a response to that?
Baseball has always had a strong presence among consumers. What we now are doing is enhancing and expanding that presence. The Church & Dwight family of brands are leaders in their respective industries and have a proven track record of being popular among the same families that fill our ballparks. Kellogg’s [in its second year as an official MLB partner] is overseeing a sweepstakes [“Never Miss A Game,” offering season tickets for 2015 and flat-screen TVs]. They will have MLB branding and club logos on more than 27 million packages of Kellogg’s product in store aisles.
Church & Dwight will have access to MLB marks and logos, but will their marketing also include MLB players?
This is the most significant sports sponsorship in their company’s long history and, as I said, they are all in. I believe you will see them roll out MLB [themed] products in 30-60 days. I’m not sure at this point if they will have MLB players in their advertising. They have to work out those details. They are in the process of developing licensed products in the oral care category and they will have activation throughout the regular season and at signature MLB events including the All-Star Game and World Series.
What we also see as being important to our alliance is that Church & Dwight will support MLB’s Breaking Barriers program [including an annual donation of $150,000 from 2014-16]. The program with Scholastic recognizes students who deal with barriers and challenges in their lives, and strongly ties in with Jackie Robinson Day and is overseen by Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter.
The 2014 All-Star Game will be played in Target Field in Minneapolis, so how involved will Target Corporation be as a new MLB partner?
Target will help to put baseball in people’s consciousness. They will carry a selection of MLB and All-Star Game merchandise in stores nationwide, which will put us in some new product aisles. And along with Church & Dwight, there are so many synergies. Target is one of the largest retailers of Church & Dwight products. We will be in places we didn’t really impact before [including] laundry, cleaning products and oral care. Relating to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, that is where Target is headquartered, and Church & Dwight has an alliance with the Twins, so you will see a great deal of activation in and around the game.
Target, MLB and People magazine are also working together for the “Target Presents People All-Star Teachers,” where fans are being asked to nominate an outstanding teacher, in a campaign that includes Carlos Beltran and Adrian Gonzalez. The teachers will be honored during a pregame ceremony at the All-Star Game.
What impact do you see from the new alliance with Viacom and MTV?
With MTV, these guys know how to talk to a young audience, ages 12-24, 12-30. They are the category killers there. This is a unique platform, something that they and we have never done before. Having them in the MLB Fan Cave all season is a great match. They will help to expand the reach and impact of the concerts there, get us in touch with a young demographic on a regular basis. They will be airing Off The Bat From the MLB Fan Cave [airing every Tuesday on MTV2], for which David Ortiz [of the Boston Red Sox] is executive producer. It will have some great hosts [Sway, Fat Joe, Chris Distefano and Melanie Iglesias] and great looks at players off the field doing things that will bring the game closer to viewers.
Are you getting a good response to the MLB Fan Cave?
The response is still amazing. When you look at the Fan Cave, and this is our fourth year here, we’ve come a long way. It has been a Herculean commitment. It speaks to our strength.
What messages will people see from MLB and your new lead agency, BBDO NY?
The people there have a great passion for the game, and that will show in the work. BBDO is exceptionally well suited to help us bring the best game in the world to our fans in uniquely creative ways. They have a respect for baseball’s heritage and understand where it is today and where the players can take it. That all will be reflected in their creative.
What is the challenge of getting baseball’s messages out to people when there are so many things going on and they have so many options in social media and elsewhere to get information?
That challenge is not unique to baseball. Everyone faces it. We challenge ourselves to make the message stronger, make the game better. To reach more fans. To reach younger fans and people who may not be fans. Social media is part of that. We see social media as a way to reach fans and to get our message out. It’s one way we are connecting with fans and interacting with them. Look at what we did with Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser to collect signatures to make Opening Day a national holiday. We had [Hall of Famer] Ozzie Smith leading the effort, and there were [7,000] signatures on a petition the same day it was posted online. We received more than 100,000 signatures [in time to] present it to the White House before Opening Day.
MLB had an early opening day this year with the Los Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia. Was that successful and could it lead to more international games?
Australia was spectacular. We already have committed to doing it again, to returning [there]. We are continuing to build the game on an international level, to build our international business. One of the best ways is to bring MLB to other countries, to play the game and get people everywhere involved.
What impact will Derek Jeter have on the 2014 season?
That is a tremendous story line taking place this season. The Derek Jeter farewell tour is certainly something that we will focus on. And the Yankees certainly will be supporting whatever he wants to do when he visits cities for the last time [as a player] and then at the end of the regular season when he plays his last games in Yankee Stadium. I’m sure he and the Yankees would like to carry this through the postseason. The game is better because of him.
How do you see 2014 playing out?
This is the best crop of young stars that I can remember. They bring new excitement and new dimensions to the game. They are getting fans involved and establishing that baseball will continue to grow and get stronger. As for the teams, people are looking at the Dodgers to do well, for Arizona to do well, Boston, Detroit. You’ll see dramatic performances, some expected, some unexpected. You never know what will happen. That’s why we play the games.
This interview was reprinted with permission of NYSportsJournalism.com.