Baseball Makes a Play for the Super Bowl Audience


Baseball Makes a Play for the Super Bowl Audience


BASEBALL is borrowing a page from the playbook of a more successful sport, taking advantage of the huge television audiences for football on Super Bowl Sunday to promote its own coming opening day,
The effort by Major League Baseball, to be formally announced today, is its first such tip of the cap to football, which has outdrawn and outmarketed the former national pastime for decades. The homage-cum-capitalization – intended to build upon the strong finale of the 2003 baseball season – comes in the form of a humorous commercial that is to appear on CBS during the episode of “Survivor” planned after the postgame show for Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1.

And in a postmodern meta-marketing moment, the commercial, by McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising in New York, will present three popular baseball players – Josh Beckett, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez – talking about commercials for Budweiser beer and Pepsi-Cola that were scheduled to appear during the Super Bowl broadcast.

The commercial time for the 30-second spot during the “Survivor” episode after the game is costing Major League Baseball almost $1 million. By comparison, CBS is charging a record average of $2.3 million for each 30-second spot during the game itself; the network has sold all but 3 or 4 of the 60 spots it plans to run to advertisers that in addition to Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) and PepsiCo (Pepsi-Cola), include America Online, General Motors ,DaimlerChrysler ,FedEx , Gillette, H & R Block, I.B.M. , MasterCard, Monster Worldwide , Procter & Gamble, Reebok, Staples and Visa.

A commercial about Super Bowl commercials appearing after the Super Bowl is additional evidence of the powerful appeal of Super Sunday, the biggest day of the year for Madison Avenue, as well as for football. Indeed, in a survey released yesterday by Insight Express, a research company in Stamford, Conn., 58 percent of the respondents said they paid closer attention to spots during a Super Bowl than those they see every day. And three to four times the viewers watch a Super Bowl as watch one game of baseball’s premier postseason event, the World Series.

“The World Series does not have the clout of the Super Bowl, which has captured the imagination and attention of Americans, male and female,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports analyst who assesses the endorsement appeal of athletes as the executive vice president and creative director at Pickett Advertising in San Francisco. 

Mr. Dorfman said he thought the strategy by Major League Baseball to join the marketers that take part in the Super Sunday hoopla was a sound one, even if it meant “you swallow your pride a little bit.”

“Baseball needs to pull in as many fans as it can,” he added, “so you do what you have to do.”

Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business at Major League Baseball in New York, disagreed with assessments of the commercial as an acknowledgment of the superiority of football.

“There’s two sports holidays in the United States, and one of them is opening day of Major League Baseball,” Mr. Brosnan said.

“The idea of the commercial is that football’s over, the landscape’s barren,” he added, “and now the players’ attention is 150 percent on baseball.” 

The commercial begins with Cynthia Rodriguez, the wife of Mr. Rodriguez, the Texas Rangers shortstop, asking her husband and his friends as they play whiffle ball, “Hey guys, how was the game?” Mr. Rodriguez replies, “It’s over.” 

When she asks “Was it any good?” Mr. Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop, replies, “Well, the commercials were good.”

Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Jeter banter with Mr. Beckett, the Florida Marlins pitcher, about two of the many Budweiser and Pepsi-Cola spots to be run during the game. They are not clairvoyant; rather, the contents of the two spots are being shared with Major League Baseball before Super Sunday by Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo, which are sponsors of both baseball and the National Football League.

Mr. Jeter ends the bantering by telling Mr. Beckett, “Let’s just go ahead and replay that World Series game,” referring to the postseason match-up between their teams. Mr. Beckett cockily replies, “Game 3 or Game 6?” Mr. Jeter hits a long whiffle-ball drive and then declares, “I live for this.” That phrase has been the theme of Major League Baseball advertising by McCann-Erickson New York – part of the McCann-Erickson World Group division of the Interpublic Group of Companies – since the start of the 2003 season in commercials featuring players like Mr. Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. 

“We really didn’t piggyback on the Super Bowl,” said Irwin Warren, executive vice president and executive creative director at McCann-Erickson New York. “That would be bad taste.”

Rather, “their season is over,” he added, referring to football players, “and we’re starting a countdown to our own season right away.”

Using Super Bowl commercials as the subject of the baseball commercial serves two purposes, Mr. Warren said. One is that “the Super Bowl is the one occasion the advertising is talked about as much as the game,” he said, because “the ad world trots out its best for the Super Bowl.”

Asked whether someday that will happen for the World Series, Mr. Warren replied diplomatically that many consumers “talk about the World Series ads” from marketers like MasterCard, “our good client.”

The other purpose the commercial content serves, Mr. Warren said, is that focusing on the advertising makes it possible for a spot filmed this month, before the game is played, to be perceived by viewers as timely and topical. He praised executives at Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo who shared their Super Bowl ad plans with his agency and Major League Baseball.

Katie Lacey, vice president for colas and media at the Pepsi-Cola North America division of the Pepsi-Cola Company unit of PepsiCo, based in Purchase, N.Y., said her company agreed to the unusual request “because it helps them out and it helps us out.”

“We love all the talk we get about our commercials,” Ms. Lacey said, “and this is another way for our commercials to be talked out.”

As for the Pepsi-Cola spot discussed by the players, whose dialogue suggests that the late rock singer Jimi Hendrix is featured, “let’s just say Jimi comes to a crossroads and he makes the right decision,” Ms. Lacey said.

After the commercial appears on Feb. 1, Mr. Brosnan said, it will appear many times through Feb. 4 on broadcast network shows that, like the Super Bowl, are watched by an audience of men ages 18 to 34; they include “American Idol,” “Fear Factor” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

Major League Baseball will spend an estimated $3 million-plus that week to run the commercial, which celebrates the opening weekend, April 4 and 5 (after a special series between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Japan, scheduled for March 30-31.)

If baseball is borrowing from football, it may only be that turnabout is fair play. In September, the N.F.L. emulated baseball with N.F.L. Kickoff Live 2003, a sports and marketing festival meant to bring some of the intensity of baseball’s opening day to football’s season-opening week.