At the time of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March of 2006, I wrote that it was the perfect vehicle to experiment with corporate advertisement on player uniforms (see The WBC and MLB’s Marketing Experiment on The Hardball Times). It was, after all, not MLB games, but instead, was a series of games with players – both MLB and non-MLB – with the finals played in US stadiums (rather, MLB stadiums), with Major League Baseball at the helm directing its efforts with the MLB Players’ Association.
The event was the perfect way to push the envelop further in terms of advertising, after dealing with the fallout in their attempt to strike a promotion deal for the movie Spiderman 2.
For those that don’t remember, that was the ill-fated attempt by Major League Baseball Properties, Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios at advertising the release of Spiderman 2 on the top of base pads during interleague games.
The plan was for a 6"x6" logo on the top of the bases that was to occur for all of two days in June of 2004 (15 games, total). The outcry over this attempted advertisement sent purists into a frenzy. As Commissioner Selig tried to straddle the line between moving forward and the purist world, he responded to The Associated Press by saying, "I'm a traditionalist. The problem in sports marketing, particularly in baseball, is you're always walking a very sensitive line. Nobody loves tradition and history as much as I do." As I said back then, and repeat now... Well, that and a new revenue stream.
Back to the WBC, the use of advertiser names on jerseys – the difference between doing it for an MLB team and teams in the WBC – was summed up by USA Baseball Director of Communications, Dave Fanucchi when he said the rationale for the consideration was, “Because it’s very common for the national teams.”
Now, the concept is reaching an MLB team, for a regular game being played outside the US.
The Boston Red Sox have agreed to a sponsorship deal to place patches with EMC Corp. and Japan 2008 logos on the right sleeve for the opening series of games against the Athletics in Japan for all Red Sox players and coaches. According to Uni Watch, this would follow the Mets and Cubs wearing AIU sleeve patches in 2000 and am/pm helmet decals, and then again in 2004, when the Yankees and Devil Rays wore the Ricoh logo on their sleeves and helmets. As reported by the Boston Herald:
EMC Corp. is betting the deal will help accelerate its drive into the lucrative Japanese tech market. The Pacific region representing the fastest growth area for the Hopkinton-based data storage giant, said David Farmer, director of corporate communications.
The deal, which is with MLB Japan, is likely to cost EMC in the six figures, one leading sports business expert said.
If you’re asking whether you’ll suddenly see such a thing during the championship season in the U.S., the answer is no. “It’s a groundbreaking deal. No corporations are allowed to have their logos on uniforms in the United States,” [Sam Kennedy, the Senior Vice President/Corporate Partnerships for the Red Sox] said. “It is very, very valuable from a corporate perspective to be branded on the players, on the content.”
(Read The Biz of Baseball Interview with Sam Kennedy)
Still, the notion that such on-uniform sponsorships can’t seem that remote. Hey, there was a point in time recently when the idea that ads on the ivy covered walls at Wrigley Field would never happen. Look at the Under Armour signage on the rollup door there now. With the ads that adorned the WBC uniforms and now, the Red Sox deal with EMC, it seems all but to be a matter of “when” not “if”.