Former MLB Exec Offers Insight Into Sport Sponsorship

Prior to John Brody leaving his position as the senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing for Major League Baseball, Sport Marketing Quarterly Industry Insider section editor Jim Kadlecek interviewed Brody, now with Wasserman Media Group, about a variety of topics. The full interview appears in the December 2010 issue (Vol. 19, No. 4) of Sport Marketing Quarterly.

Q: As a league it seems you have intentionally not sliced categories up but instead have focused on fewer, bigger, and more comprehensive deals that make it a greater value for your partners. Has that been a deliberate approach?

Brody: It is deliberate. Another one of our philosophies is less is more. We don’t have a number. It could be five partners, it could be 30 partners. But if you are truly able to support the all-in philosophy, if you are a best in breed, and we are, then you can be very selective. We are stewards of this great American brand known as Major League Baseball. If we are going to tie our brand into another intellectual property, we want to make sure we do our research. The companies that we are tied to are also best in breed. There is a reason why we are with who we are with. It is not just about finding the right partner who can spend the right amount of money. It is finding the right partner who markets their brand in a way that we want to market ours and also embraces and understands the all-in philosophy.

We have been successful in adding partners strategically but it has always been about less is more; having fewer partners doing more. We believe this is a better philosophy over the long term than expansion of the business in any way, shape, or form that will allow us to get revenue in the short term. We think you do better by having a consistent approach and having the best in breed partners doing more.

Q: Can you tell us about your relationship with Holiday Inn? They seem to have done a very good job of leveraging their relationship with baseball.

Brody: This is an example of what we try to do for brands. Last year they re-launched the Holiday Inn brand in America. Intercontinental Hotels Group, the parent to Holiday Inn, is the largest hotel chain in the world. Holiday Inn is one of those golden brands in America and to change the brand as significantly as they did is a tremendous undertaking. We worked with them for the better part of two years to re-launch the Holiday Inn brand. The first real execution tied to the re-launch of the Holiday Inn brand was around the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game for a few reasons. The simplest reason is the media strength of the All-Star game, using the ability that we had to plan and orchestrate a complete solution on how they would go to market through media and different executions tied to the re-launch of their brand. They knew that they had a big event coming in 2009 and we executed it for them. They have been successful as they looked to 2010 as the first year that this new brand launched. A lot of it had to do with how we unveiled it during All-Star week last year.

Q: With respect to Major League Baseball, can you talk about the role of technology and its impact in the world of sport marketing?

Brody: Technology is, in its simplest form, an enabler to allow people to have greater access to the sport in different ways. If you go back 50 years you needed either to be near a Major League Baseball ballpark or you needed rabbit ears on your television or radio so you could actually hear the game broadcast. Technology has impacted the way that people can enjoy sports, whether you want to instantly find a score update on your PDA or watch a game online on MLB.com even if you are out of the country. I am certainly not the one to predict what the next iPhone application will be, because I am not a technology expert. We have experts here at baseball through our Internet company and our network.

Our job on this side of the business is to try to find more access points for baseball and sports in general. I think technology will continue to find incredibly innovative ways to deliver content. Sports content and baseball content in particular is something that people crave. That is why MLB.com launched at the turn of the century. That is why MLB Network launched this past year and it is the largest launch in the history of cable television—not in cable sports television, but in cable television vs. the likes of MSNBC and OXYGEN and CNBC, FOX Business. We are in more than 54 million homes. That is about access and I think technology will continue to evolve as great minds throughout the country and the world find new ways to integrate technology into customers’ consumption of media and content.

Generally, as a sport and as a property we embrace technology to make the fan experience better. It may be in other forms of media that I talked about or along the lines of what we did with our partner at MasterCard. When you go to the hot dog stand to get your hot dog and a Pepsi you can just swipe your MasterCard rather than having to fumble for cash. We think that is technology being an enabler for improving the customer experience. All of those different forms of technology really help make the experience better. This is a small example, but instant replay began in a limited way in our sport in August of 2008. We looked to our technology partner Sharp to provide the LCD televisions for all 30 Major League ballparks after the commissioner made the decision to allow instant replay in limited forms. Those are just a couple of examples of technology.

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