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McGwire Will Be Batting Millions in Endorsements

Home-run record breaker's single season take could be $25 million, but deals are on hold as he concentrates on the game.

September 10, 1998|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moments after Mark McGwire knocked a $9 baseball into the record books, baseball's new king of swing looked into a camera, hugged his 10-year-old son and told the world that he was going to Disney World.

With the seemingly mandatory commercial under his wing, the St. Louis Cardinal star ascended into the rarefied air that sports marketers reserve for the biggest stars.

"As of [Tuesday] night, Mark McGwire will never need money," said Rick Burton, director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, who pegs the value of McGwire's single-season endorsement potential at $25 million. "He's the new Michael Jordan."

Sports marketers say it's up to McGwire--who's shown an ability to stick to his own agenda during his historic home run chase--to determine when and how he cashes in on the glory earned during the season-long assault on Roger Maris' long-standing home run record.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 11, 1998 Home Edition Business Part D Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Home shopping--A story Thursday misstated the number of sports memorabilia items sold by QVC on Tuesday night. The at-home shopping channel sold more than 100,000 pieces of home-run-chase-related merchandise.

McGwire's camp maintains that this boy of summer will maintain the same level of intensity needed to hit 62 home runs and deal with the media scrutiny that haunted Maris. The marketing picture won't be complete, observers add, until the season ends because Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa remains solidly in the chase.

But with baseball fans pegging the value of home run ball No. 62 at $1 million or more, there's ample evidence that McGwire's marketing potential is as hot as his baseball bat.

Seconds after McGwire hit his historic home run, QVC broke into its regular programming to sell $2.6 million worth of home run chase memorabilia. By the end of business, the at-home shopping service had taken 58,000 orders, which QVC spokeswoman Leslie Gross described as "a new record for a sports break-in."

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And that's just the start. Marketers such as Bill Goff, whose Connecticut-based firm produces upscale lithographs and $35 sports calendars, is one of two dozen firms readying home run chase merchandise authorized by professional baseball and its players association.

And Bob Cohen, McGwire's Los Angeles-based agent, said Tuesday that the telephone keeps ringing with all kinds of offers.

"We hear from big companies down to all types to people who want to do clever things to honor Mark," Cohen said. "The potential is unlimited. At this point, Mark is probably getting more publicity than any other athlete in the world--maybe as much publicity as any other person in the world other than President Clinton."

But some sports marketers who've pitched McGwire on possible affiliations say they've struck out because the star is opting to remain focused on baseball.

"It will probably be several weeks before you hear anything on possible deals," Cohen said. "He wants to get through the season. And while he's obviously passed up on some things, he knows that once he's broken the record he can have his pick of opportunities and the money will be twice as good."

There are rumors in the sports marketing world that McGwire might turn over his marketing future to a well-versed giant such as ICM, which has strong Hollywood connections. But there are also signs that, just as McGwire isn't your ordinary baseball player, he isn't your typical jock in search of a quick buck.

McGwire has rarely signed promotional contracts outside of the tools of his trade--and has stuck with the same bat, glove and batting glove manufacturers since joining baseball. A shoe contract with Reebok expired last year and, while McGwire now wears Nike shoes, he hasn't signed a contract with the sports apparel giant.

To the amazement of sports marketers, McGwire has appeared in countless interviews wearing a cap from the Abbey, a neighborhood bar in Seal Beach--in which McGwire has no financial interest.

"Those pictures of the Abbey hat tell the whole story," Cohen said. "Mark's not naive--he knows the marketing value of wearing someone's product. But he's made the decision to forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars on the hat alone."

Part of McGwire's reticence to take on new marketing partners is driven by the simple fact that he already has tremendous demands on his time--ranging from baseball to his son. So far, Cohen said, the few deals that have been done haven't forced McGwire to take a break from his beloved game.

Tuesday night's lightning-fast Walt Disney Co. commercial, for example, took just a moment of his time to film. And MasterCard International's ongoing "priceless" campaign makes use of footage of McGwire and Sosa hitting home runs out of the park.

Sports marketers tread gently when comparing McGwire, the redheaded giant who has tamed both pitchers and the media, and Sosa, a younger player from the Dominican Republic, who's having his first brush with a national media feeding frenzy.

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