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O Say Can You See the Synergy?

June 15, 1997|Steve Hochman

Is the pop music world ready for a Jerry Maguire?

A major-label executive is going to school to learn the field of sports marketing, with an eye on exploring and exploiting the relationships between athletics and pop music.

"There are just so many ways you can get your band in a newspaper or magazine," says Ellen Zoe Golden, vice president of media for Universal Records, which has scored hits by Erykah Badu and Merrill Bainbridge. "And you have to think about bands performing on TV that reaches people who might not necessarily watch MTV."

The sports-pop link includes such prominent instances as Jose Feliciano's controversial version of the national anthem at the 1968 World Series and Whitney Houston's hit version of the anthem from the 1991 Super Bowl.

But two recent success stories inspired Golden. One was the sports-themed video of Hootie & the Blowfish's "Only Wanna Be With You" three years ago, featuring Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and ESPN anchors, among others. The song had a big presence in sports media.

"My brother, who hadn't bought a new album for years, heard the song on a sports-talk radio station and heard that [Hootie singer] Darius Rucker was a big Dolphins fan, so he bought the record," says Golden.

The other is the success of "Jock Rock," "Jock Jams" and other albums in a series of sports-themed anthology CDs released over the past three years by Tommy Boy Records in association with ESPN. Collecting such arena favorites as Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" and Tag Team's "Whoomp! There It Is," the albums have been steady sellers. "Jock Jams Vol. 2" became the first non-soundtrack multi-artist compilation to crack Billboard magazine's Top 10 earlier this year, and a third edition will be out in the fall.

A "Jock Jam Mega-mix" single that blends bits of a lot of those songs together, is currently the No. 29-selling single in the country, boosted by customized versions aimed at fans of NBA finalists the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.

"We're sorry to see the playoffs end," says Tommy Boy President Monica Petty. "But we're gearing up for baseball and football promotions. And the NBA and NFL are global enterprises. There are a lot of opportunities for artists to get exposure in nontraditional environments."

But Geoff Mayfield, Billboard charts editor, points to such less-than-successful tie-ins as an "NBA at 50" album last year and sounds a note of caution.

"The industry has a tendency that when something is a success, everyone tries to do it too much," he says. "Tommy Boy's success doesn't mean that someone should start a whole label based on sports marketing."

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