Major League Baseball (MLB) made another pitch to recapture the youth market late last month with the release of Unforgettable Finishes and Greatest World Series Moments on home video. The two titles were the first to come out of MLB’s partnership with PolyGram Video, a five-year deal signed in January that puts PolyGram in charge of the marketing and distribution of the videos.
One of the keys to MLB and PolyGram’s strategy, says Sal Scamardo, senior director of specialty programming at PolyGram, is the change in the appearance of the videos, which feature hipper-looking packaging with more colorful graphics and photos. Another tactic is the decision to focus on the youth market through specific titles.
‘What we’ve done is subdivided the baseball home videos into five basic sub-brands: Collectible, Action, Music, Champions and Comedy. . . . We’re targeting kids inside out, through programming and marketing,’ says Scamardo. In particular, he says, the music and the comedy categories should pique the interest of young people. MLBeat (US$19.95), to be released on July 7, pairs well-known PolyGram recording artists such as LL Cool J, Elton John and Jon Bon Jovi, with some of baseball’s current young stars. Even More Unbelievable (US$14.95), set for release on June 23, contains an endless loop of baseball bloopers, blunders and great plays. PolyGram expects other titles, such as Greatest World Series Moments (US$19.95), to appeal to both adults and tweens. Using subcategories to target separate demographics, Scamardo says, allows PolyGram to grow the home video category with the 12- to 20-year-old demographic, without alienating its core group of consumers-adult collectors.
To promote the videos, PolyGram has launched a multimedia ad campaign. On TV, commercials for the videos will be running throughout the season on Fox, Fox Sports Network, ESPN and DirectTV. On radio, spots for the videos will be appearing on the ESPN Radio Network and on the leading rock stations in each of the major markets in the U.S. Print ads will run in dailies in major markets, as well as in youth-oriented magazines like Sports Illustrated. PolyGram is also hooking up with other MLB licensees to help promote the videos through gift-with-purchase offers. For its retail program, entitled ‘Bring it Home,’ PolyGram is looking to increase MLB’s presence in its current distribution channels, such as record stores and mass-market department stores, and into new areas, such as grocery stores. In-store promotions will consist of three free-standing displays containing 60 different pieces of product, across all video categories.
Whether sub-branding and sharper-looking packaging will bring young people back to America’s pastime remains a point of debate. The numbers from VideoScan, a Calabasa, California-based company that tracks weekly video sales through 16,000 retail outlets, place MLB videos near the bottom of the list of sports titles sold. For the first quarter of this year, baseball’s top-selling video, MLB: 1997 World Series, distributed by PolyGram Video, ranked number 12, behind videos by the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and WCW. Last year, the same title was the top-selling MLB video for 1997, ranked seventh in terms of sales, again behind videos from three other major professional sports .
‘What we haven’t done well is consistently brand the line,’ says Leslie Sullivan, vice president of broadcasting and new media development at MLB, in explanation of baseball’s poor sell-through numbers. ‘For example, if we were focusing on the hottest-hitting stars in each year, ideally, we’d do a Super Sluggers One, and follow it up with a Super Sluggers Two [and others]. We didn’t do that. We weren’t consistent.’ Other factors Sullivan cites are the financial problems some of the company’s major retail partners experienced in 1997, as well as Orion’s-MLB’s previous distributor-inability to ‘aggressively’ sell its product because of structural changes it was undergoing at the time.
Some analysts, however, point to what they see as the inherent problems in Major League Baseball as an entertainment property as the reasons for poor sales across a number of product categories, including home video.
‘In my opinion, most kids see baseball as a sport for an older generation,’ says John Mansell, a senior analyst at Paul Kagan & Associates, a media research firm based in Carmel, California. ‘On national network television, Major League Baseball attracts an audience of old men. It’s not considered a desirable audience, from an advertiser’s point of view,’ says Ron Frederick, director of national broadcasting at J. Walter Thompson, who adds that both the NFL’s Monday Night Football and the NBA games televised on network television draw much more diverse audiences than baseball games do.
Scamardo contends that PolyGram can turn MLB’s poor home video sales around, and cites as proof PolyGram’s work as the marketer and distributor of NFL videos.
‘Six years ago, the NFL was in a similar situation to the one that Major League Baseball is in today. They had [a small] share of the market. The perception of the line was that it was a dead category and there was certainly no appeal for the youth market. Today, NFL videos are consistently number one sellers.’