Las Vegas 51s to join marketing initiative lineup with other minor league teams

The Las Vegas 51s minor league baseball team is always hunting for more sponsors to add to its inventory of 50 or so advertisers.

Now, under a new marketing initiative, the ballclub is joining forces with the other 159 teams in the minors to sell the overall brand to national advertisers.

The new marketing scheme is called Project Brand, and Minor League Baseball has created a new chief marketing officer position to attract national advertisers.

Minor League Baseball will never have the brand power of the National Football League, which generates $431 million a year from in-stadium marketing revenue. Even Major League Baseball generates $75 million annually.

But minor league officials believe their brand — known for affordable, family-oriented entertainment in geographically diverse ball yards across the country — will appeal to national companies and generate more than the $2 million currently produced by the previous, 20-year-old marketing program.

“We’d like to leverage the collective branding power of all 160 teams,” said Chuck Johnson, the 51s general manager.

Minor League Baseball began looking to update its marketing approach in April 2012 and unveiled Project Brand during the winter meetings, said Tina Gust, Minor League Baseball’s vice president for business development.

Minor League Baseball, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., has a brand that attracts more than 40 million fans, with a strong female base and broad geographic reach, she said.

Indeed, minor-league markets range from urban settings such as Las Vegas and Sacramento, Calif., to rural towns like Auburn in central New York, and many midsized markets. The season also lasts from April to September, with marketing opportunities for major holidays such as the Fourth of July and back-to-school events, Gust said.

The chief marketing officer’s charge is to study which companies would find the Minor League Baseball brand appealing and then recruit them to sign on. Gust said the organization is close to filling the newly created chief marketing officer post.

“This is a long-term play for us,” she said Wednesday. “We want to build long-term partners.”

Years ago, colorful minor league teams such as the Durham Bulls and Toledo Mud Hens were attractive to advertisers, but now there’s an increased recognition of the entire Minor League Baseball brand, she said.

Under Project Brand, the strengths of all 160 teams can be harnessed under one banner to appeal to national advertisers, Johnson said.

In Las Vegas, for example, the 51s can potentially be involved by Minor League Baseball offering a vacation sweepstakes to Sin City as part of a national promotion for a prospective advertiser, he said.

Nancy Lough, a University of Nevada Las Vegas professor who focuses on sports marketing, likes the new model.

“Minor League Baseball has never worked that way; they have always been more locally based. When you go to a 51s game or any minor league park you would be hard pressed to find national advertising/ marketing presence. It’s always smaller companies within about a 30-mile radius,” she said. “The collective offers a brand equity opportunity that can add value beyond one local market and extend it both regionally and nationally.”

Lough suggested pursuing traditional sponsor categories such as beer, soda, food, apparel, insurance, auto and airlines. But she recommended Minor League Baseball consider national brands that have a small to mid-market presence.

“The insurance category could fit this well. I also like more organic sponsor categories, like Scotts Turf Builder brand, since baseball is known for the smell of fresh cut grass. … I also like sunscreen as a sponsor, which can be a brand held by a major national corporation such as Johnson & Johnson,” Lough said. “Products that are actually needed to enhance the experience can create a niche within the sponsorship platform, and in this way cut through the clutter to more directly benefit the brand as a sponsor.”

National brands that could be a good fit with Minor League Baseball include Walgreens and Ace hardware, because they would work well in small- to midsized markets, she said.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at
asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.

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