After tonight's All-Star Game, Texaco, the official pit stop for All-Star ballots, will pretty much call its baseball season a wrap.
And with good reason. The Big Game that Texaco built its marketing season around will be over. But other Major League Baseball sponsors, who paid millions to link themselves with the sport all the way through the World Series, are wondering whether the players--who are expected to vote soon for an August or September strike--will eventually join Texaco on the sidelines.
Although baseball has had an exciting season on the field, some marketers are calling this the All-Star Game from hell. Many fans are angered about the strong possibility of a baseball strike--with players upset over a proposal by team owners to cut costs next season by enforcing a salary cap. Other fans are turned off by visions of another American League blowout. (The American League has won the past six contests.) And baseball's midseason classic--as American as Dodger Dogs--finds itself competing for media coverage against soccer's World Cup.
"There's a real cloud hanging over this year's All-Star Game," said Brandon Steiner, president of New York-based Steiner Sports Marketing. "The karma is pretty bad."
Still, officials at NBC say all 60 of the 30-second commercial units have been sold, for up to $300,000 each.
Sponsors, who are generally trying to put the best possible face on the event, point out that many fans are especially eager to see several sluggers who are making serious bids at baseball's single-season home run record of 61, set by Roger Maris in 1961. Going into the All-Star break, Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. and San Francisco's Matt Williams each has 33 home runs, and Chicago's Frank Thomas has 32.
No matter what happens, executives at Texaco figure they've covered their bases.
"Almost all of our participation was leading up to the All-Star Game," said Tom Matthews, president of Texaco Refining & Marketing. "So if a strike does occur, it has a very minimal effect on us."
More than 6 million of the record 14 million All-Star ballots completed this year were picked up at Texaco service stations, Matthews said. The rest were obtained at the ballparks. And Texaco's name appeared on every one of the ballots.
Most other sponsors, however, are in it for the long haul.
Gatorade has its name and logo etched into the on-deck circles, where players stand before they bat. Each time the camera shows the batter waiting on deck, the Gatorade logo will be seen in up to 40 million American households.
"It reminds the public that we're the sports beverage used by the best athletes in the world," said Bill Daily, director of sports marketing for Gatorade.
Sponsors like to see their names in lights when viewers are paying closest attention, said Bob Lachky, vice president of Budweiser brands. That's why Anheuser-Busch is sponsoring the opening lineups, which will be seen by TV viewers as the "Budweiser Opening Lineup."
Similarly, MCI will sponsor "MCI Proof Positive Instant Replays."
Reebok hopes TV camera operators will find reason to show a close-up of the shoes of its long-ball-hitting spokesman, Frank Thomas. He'll be decked out in a pair of shoes from Reebok's upcoming shoe line, dubbed in honor of Thomas' many nicknames: "The Big Hurt." Although the shoe line won't be available until next spring, Reebok hopes this can help it build early interest in the line.
"Maybe he'll foul a ball off his foot and the camera will show a close-up," joked Reebok spokesman Dave Fogelson.
But above all, it is Griffey who may seem as visible off the field as on during tonight's game. The Seattle Mariner outfielder will appear in new ads for Nike, Nintendo and a tear-jerker ad for Major League Baseball.
The baseball spot features the superstar spending a day at Seattle's Kingdome along with a 12-year-old cancer patient whose longtime wish to meet Griffey was granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"It's an attempt to make people realize that some of these guys--even though they're making tons of money--are real people," said Jeff Goodby, chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco agency that created the new baseball image ads.
The agency also created a spot airing tonight that features Dodger star Mike Piazza visiting a cancer ward at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. The slogan of the ads attempts to make ballplayers seem more accessible: "Real-life heroes."
During the game, Nintendo will twice air an ad featuring Griffey and his father, Ken Griffey Sr., who was a star with the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1970s. Since April, Nintendo has sold nearly 750,000 "Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball" computer software games, said George Harrison, director of marketing. "We see a bump in sales every time he hits a home run," Harrison said.