YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A New Set of Ground Rules

In a sign of times, a snowboarder has taken DiMaggio's place as coffee maker pitchman

November 19, 2002|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

No longer can there be doubt about where Joe DiMaggio has gone. Dude has pulled on some gloves, tugged at a warm hat, strapped his feet onto a snowboard and is now shredding on a powder-laced mountain.

In a sign of the mainstreaming of snowboarding, which only a few years ago was a sport seemingly restricted to teenage lunatics who reveled in a buzz-off attitude, Chris Klug, 30, the U.S. snowboarder who won a bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, recently began starring in advertisements for Mr. Coffee.

DiMaggio, the late New York Yankee star idealized in Simon & Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson" in the 1960s, was for many years Mr. Coffee's pitchman. Now the torch -- not the Olympic torch, the iconographic one -- has been passed, from baseball legend ... to snowboarder.

As Tina Basich, one of snowboarding's most recognizable female riders, put it, "That's crazy," which is snowboard-speak for "excellent."

Klug, who survived a liver transplant and is given to keeping matters in perspective, said, "It's pretty cool."

Other snowboarders have also signed on in recent months for national ad work.

Observed David Carter, who teaches a class on sports business at USC and is co-author of a forthcoming book on the subject, "In each generation, you have athletes who not only transcended their sport but helped transcend sports and business," stars such as football quarterback Joe Namath and golfer Jack Nicklaus.

"Snowboarding," Carter said, "has clearly reached that level now."

The Mr. Coffee campaign illustrates how America has changed over the past few years. For one thing, it is appearing in magazines such as People and InStyle and online and not, like DiMaggio's advertisements, on television because, a company official said, the broadcast landscape is too fragmented today. More significantly, it illustrates the way America plays, and the players it listens to.

DiMaggio died in 1999, at age 84. In his day, he was -- at least in public -- the undisputed embodiment of class and grace.

In 1974, 23 years after he retired from baseball, he became spokesman for Mr. Coffee.

The brand was introduced in 1972 and, with DiMaggio's endorsement, quickly came to dominate the category it invented -- the automatic drip coffee maker.

Now roughly one of every three households in the U.S. that has an automatic drip coffee maker has a Mr. Coffee.

This year Mr. Coffee -- now part of the empire owned by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sunbeam Products, Inc. -- turned 30. "The brand turning the big 3-0, we need to turn and be agile and address [consumers'] changing needs," said Mary Ann Knaus, vice president and general manager for global appliances.

The concern: The average Mr. Coffee buyer is between 45 and 55. The brand wanted to execute a two-fer -- to retain older buyers by emphasizing what Knaus called Mr. Coffee's "heritage, quality, all-American feel" even as it attracted more younger buyers, particularly those 35 to 45, who, as she put it, had "changing consumption patterns," in essence the choice of a Starbucks on seemingly every corner.

Like all marketing types, the executives at Sunbeam could read the numbers that for the past few years have been coming out of the Mt. Prospect, Ill., headquarters of the National Sporting Goods Assn.:

From 1996 through 2001, for example, participation among boys 7 to 17 in skateboarding jumped 123%, from 3 million to 6.7 million; participation in snowboarding, which is decidedly more expensive than skateboarding, nonetheless rose from 1.3 million to 1.9 million boys, up 46%.

In the same span, golf participation increased 26% from 2.3 million to 2.9 million, football 2% from 4.6 million to 4.7 million. Baseball participation was flat at 7 million. Basketball dropped 9% from 9.6 to 8.7 million.

Snowboarding's rise in popularity helped boost the ski industry, which by the mid-1990s had stagnated. Nationally, snowboarders make up about half of the people on the slopes on a given day.

Snowboarding's first run in the Olympics came in 1998, in Nagano, Japan. It was marred when Ross Rebagliati of Canada, the men's slalom winner, was temporarily stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for marijuana, which he blamed on second-hand smoke.

He ultimately got to keep the medal but the PR damage lingered -- until this past February at the Salt Lake Games, where everything went right, particularly for the U.S. team, and snowboarding, broadcast nationwide on NBC, was stamped with mainstream legitimacy.

First, Kelly Clark of the United States won the women's halfpipe event. The next day, American men turned a triple play -- Ross Powers, Danny Kass and Jarret [J.J.] Thomas going 1-2-3 in the men's halfpipe.

Los Angeles Times Articles