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The WBC and MLB’s Marketing Experiment (Revisited) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 03 March 2009 01:58

EMC uniform ad patch

Could uniform advertisements, like this one from
the 2008 season-opening series in Japan that the
Red Sox engaged in last year, be coming to MLB
as the pressure from the economy mounts?

Three years ago, I opined for The Hardball Times that the World Baseball Classic had the capacity for World Baseball Classic, Inc., and more importantly, MLB, to push the boundaries of sponsorship opportunities. As I wrote in Feb. of 2006:

The World Baseball Classic will allow MLB to test some new marketing ideas that, as we have seen in the past, a large majority of baseball fans can go ballistic over. Certainly, the best example was the ill-fated attempt by Major League Baseball Properties, Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios at advertising the release of Spiderman 2 on the top of base pads during interleague games.

Now, with the 2009 World Baseball Classic set to start on Thursday, the idea of finding unobtrusive ways of engaging more sponsorship activation may never have been closer.

The reason is, of course, the gloomy economy.

When times are tough, you can always count on reevaluating old taboos. As the need for the almighty dollar makes owners and league executives redefine what is pure and what is not, aspects like uniform advertisement, or revisit the sacrilegious idea of ads on the sides of bases, become more likely.

There are examples of some prior taboos being broken in sports today.

Sponsorship deals with casinos are increasing in MLB at a rapid rate. The Brewers recently reached a multi-year agreement with  Potawatomi Bingo Casino in which Potawatomi Bingo Casino will serve as the team's presenting sponsor, the first presenting sponsorship for a Major League sports franchise in Wisconsin sports history.

While financial terms were not released, the revenues from the sponsorship deal are substantial, especially given the declines in advertising sponsorships across the league. The Brewers confirm that the agreement with Potawatomi Bingo Casino will be the second most lucrative deal for the club behind the Miller Brewing naming rights deal for the Brewers stadium, Miller Park.

In the NBA, the league lifted a ban in place since 1991 allowing courtside advertising of liquor brands, driven by the decline of revenues due to the faltering economy.

“We are always trying to find ways to drive more revenue and this falls in line with that,” said Chris Granger, senior vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA. “The vote was simply to rescind the prohibition of teams selling courtside liquor ads. We are working on what other opportunities will exist.”

MLB must certainly be looking at opportunities, as well. There are, after all, sponsors that want to get their foot in the door with the league; sponsors that may not have been considered by MLB prior. At some point, redefining what is unacceptable has the capacity to be bent as the need for revenues increase.

If there is a shining example of this slow move into advertising on uniforms, the Boston Red Sox agreed last year to a sponsorship deal to place patches with EMC Corp. and Japan 2008 logos on the right sleeve for the opening series of games against the Athletics in Japan for all Red Sox players and coaches (see Uniform Advertisement in MLB is "When" not "If").

The “when” in MLB for such uniform ads won’t be happening as individual agreements between clubs and sponsors. No corporations are allowed to have their logos on uniforms in the United States, per MLB’s rules. But, as Sam Kennedy, the Senior Vice President/Corporate Partnerships for the Red Sox said last year of the uniform sponsorship deal for the Red Sox, “It is very, very valuable from a corporate perspective to be branded on the players, on the content.”

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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