By Barry Janoff
March 6, 2017: In 2005, in response to the International Olympic Committee voting to remove baseball and softball from Olympic competition beginning with the 2012 Summer Games in London, the overseeing body of baseball decided to create its own global competition.
In 2006, the International Baseball Federation (which merged with the International Softball Federation in 2013 to become the World Baseball Softball Confederation), worked with MLB, the MLB Players’ Assn. and other of the sport’s governing bodies worldwide to launch the World Baseball Classic.
Designed to resemble the FIFA World Cup, Japan won the first WBC in 2006, then again in 2009; in 2013, the Dominican Republic came home with the trophy.
After voting to oust the sport from the 2012 London Games and 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC voted last year to reinstate baseball and softball beginning with the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Rather than ending the WBC’s run, the next World Baseball Classic is still being planned for 2021, according to Dominick Balsamo, Vice President of International Media Sales & Marketing Partnerships at MLB. "The WBC and the Olympics can absolutely co-exist," he said.
For the 2017 WBC, which runs March 6-22, more than 60 marketing partners have signed on, led by four World Baseball Classic global partners: GungHo Online Entertainment, Hublot, Nippon Express and Nomura Securities.
The international partner list also includes Delta Air Lines, which will "support the unique travel demands of the tournament as the preferred carrier of the World Baseball Classic."
In addition, the partner list includes Gatorade, Kia, LG, AT&T, Brooks Brothers, Mizuno, Sun Life Financial, Rawlings (the official baseball), New Era (caps), Topps and Majestic (jerseys and T-shirts).
(See full list of partners and jersey/helmet sponsors here.)
All games will be shown in the U.S. on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
U.S. cities hosting games are Miami (Marlins Park), San Diego (Petco Park) and Los Angeles, with Dodger Stadium the site for the championship round, March 20-22, featuring the final four teams.
The 2013 tournament drew a total attendance of 885,212, which surpassed the 2009 World Baseball Classic total of 801,410.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Dominick Balsamo and Erin Sloneker, Director, Marketing Partnerships, International for MLB, about marketing, fans and the impact of the World Baseball Classic.
NYSportsJournalism.com: The World Baseball Classic initially was formed in response to baseball and softball being voted out of the Olympics. Will the WBC continue with baseball and softball again being part of the Olympics beginning in 2020?
Dominick Balsamo: The WBC will continue, with the next event planned for 2021. The WBC and the Olympics can absolutely co-exist. They can work together. There are a lot of similarities between the competitions, but the WBC is a different animal. The two events are distinct and attract (their own) fans and marketing partners. So the plan is to continue with the WBC, with the support of the WBSC, MLB, MLBPA and other overseeing organizations in the respective countries. And, certainly, our marketing partners want to see it continue, as well.
NYSJ: You don’t foresee any conflicts of interest?
DB: We have always been supportive of having baseball in the Olympics. Baseball definitely needs to be in the Olympics. The issue in the past has been from a timing perspective. Getting professional players, not only in MLB but across all the major leagues around the world, to pause in the middle of their season to leave their teams and compete in the Olympics. There are issues with that. But that’s for others (closer to the Olympic situation) to comment on.
NYSJ: You’ve been with MLB since 2001, so what impact do you see the WBC having on the game, marketers and fans?
DB: I’ve been involved with all four World Baseball Classics. It’s a badge of honor. (Laughs.) It’s been interesting. If we are going to do what we want to do on a international scale, it is a really important platform. The formula to have the best players represent their national teams needs to happen for to grow the game and to attract new fans and marketing partners.
"The interest and the relationships that we forge through the WBC opens the door for companies to work with MLB."
NYSJ: What do you remember about getting the first WBC off the ground and organized back in 2005-06?
DB: Any time you do something like this, an event of this magnitude, it takes special collaboration not only from all of the national teams that are involved, but also the professional leagues, including us, the Japanese league, the Korean league, Mexico, all of the leagues that have players in the event. There are many stakeholders across the board. It was a big, concerted effort. It didn’t happen overnight.
NYSJ: Why was it held in 2006?
DB: The original event was supposed to be 2005. We needed the extra time to coordinate all the efforts. To get it done properly to the high standards we set. It was important to get that first stake in the ground. Once we did that, in 2006, it was important to keep on the four-year time frame on the international landscape (similar to such international events as the FIFA World Cup and the Summer and Winter Games, respectively), so we counted from 2005 and moved forward from there. Which is why there was only a three-year gap to the next WBC in 2009.
NYSJ: In planning for 2017, some of the marketing partners have been involved with other WBC events and some haven’t, so what logistics are involved with coordinating and integrating local, regional and, in the case of some, global activation?
DB: The global sponsor platform for this event is pretty unique. We hold it in high regard. We have a lot of partners executing locally and a lot executing with the national teams. The global partners execute everywhere. They are omnipresent throughout the event. You’ll see them wrapped in our institutional branding, at field level, in all stadiums. So it will have a very consistent look. Press conference backdrops. Literally woven into the fabric of the event. IT rights and activation. Hospitality. They get all rights and assets across the board.
NYSJ: Part of the activation is partner patches on helmets and shirts. International audiences may be used to that but did you get any push-back from players or consumers in the U.S.?
DB: The culture for uniform branding in the U.S. is becoming much more in-line with that of international fans. It is not intrusive. You see a lot of pro leagues doing it or going in that direction. For us, the MLB events that we do internationally, we’ve had uniform branding. Series openers in Japan, for example. It helps to integrate our partners into the event. We’ve had it from Day One, so it’s been a consistent aspect. The left sleeve and the helmet sticker over the open ear. For the WBC, it has been pretty seamless. Subtle. Not like a big logo across the front of a jersey. We’ve been fortunate to get some good partners on-board for that.
NYSJ: Most of the international teams have a jersey or helmet patch, or both. The U.S. has neither. Is there a company or companies in talks to buy those spaces?
DB: I won’t say no tothat. There have been conversations. We haven’t had the right fit just yet.
NYSJ: Are partners still being added?
DB: Not on the global level. But what happens in an event such as this is some local partners come on early, which is preferred because you get a running start. Then others who see it starting, maybe you’ve pitched them earlier in the year, or some you haven’t thought of it who then come out and say, This is happening here, it would be a great opportunity. And we can carve out some space. Some smaller pieces.
NYSJ: Are you finding that international marketers are using the WBC to become more familiar with MLB and become or potentially become MLB marketing partners?
DB: Without question. We have a growing number of marketing partners outside of the U.S. and we work with a lot of those people on events such as the WBC. The interest and the relationships that we forge through the WBC opens the door for companies to work with MLB. You’ll see that speciffically with the WBC four global companies. Hublot is one one of them. They started their baseball marketing with the Premier12, an international baseball tournament held by the WBSF every four years (in between the WBC schedule). They started with the most recent one (in 2015) and had some success. They recognized the WBC as the next step in global competition. So they have come on the scene and have been very active with baseball on the international scene. And they are emerging as a good marketing partner for us.
NYSJ: The semi-final and final games are scheduled for March 21 and March 22 in Dodger Stadium. Will there be special activation around that or leading up to the final games?
Erin Sloneker: All of the global partners will be involved as will local partners. One special event we are attaching ourselves to is the (Skechers Performance) Los Angeles Marathon (scheduled for March 19). The starting line is at Dodger Stadium and it finishes in Santa Monica. So we will have a marketing presence during the Marathon itself. We also will be present during the (LA Big 5 Sporting Goods) 5K (on March 18), which beings and ends at Dodger Stadium. We will have a table set up and other activation to get people excited about the WBC games coming there the next week.
NYSJ: Being that there are so many nations and international players and fans involved, does it sometimes feel as if you are helping to oversee the United Nations of baseball?
DB: As much as it is a ton of work, it is fun to get everyone to work together and, ultimately, to play together. We have our day jobs at MLB, but every four years we are part of this massive undertaking of playing in six different venues in four different countries across in different time zones. It is unique, special and a lot of fun to deal with people from around the world.
Marketers Step Up To The Plate For ’17 World Baseball Classic Campaigns
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