The race to cash in on Mark McGwire's 62nd home run is already under way as marketers as disparate as Walt Disney Co. and a maker of baseball caps called Twins Enterprises scramble to celebrate his record.
But in an unusual counterpoint to the overwhelming American commercial culture, that contest has not been as frenetic as other recent efforts to capitalize on athletic achievement. That is because McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the other player vying for the single-season home run mark, have been devoting far less time to the marketing aspects of the chase than to the actual task facing them.That unconventional concentration on heroics rather than hyperbole has helped build national attention and affection for both men and also delayed what would have been a typically frantic round of deal-making during the season.
As a result, "Madison Avenue is salivating," said Roberto Muller, president and chief executive of Muller Sports Group, a marketing company in New York. "They're dying for Mark and Sammy."
Muller predicted that if McGwire and Sosa were to collaborate on ads, "they will be bigger than Michael and Larry," referring to the basketball stars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, who cooperated on campaigns for advertisers like McDonald's Corp.
Estimates are that McGwire may land $2 million worth of deals and Sosa $1 million. Those figures could change, though, if Sosa were to hit more homers than McGwire during the season. Sports marketing experts said they thought the flap over McGwire's use of a controversial drug would not affect his appeal.
Both McGwire, who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sosa, who plays for the Chicago Cubs, have agents who have been emphasizing long-term agreements with a short list of blue-chip advertisers. They are following in the cleated footprints left in 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr. and his marketing agent, Ira Rainess, when Ripken set the record for consecutive baseball games played.