Media game plan calls for exhibition blitz

January 25, 1992|By Jon Morgan jHC ...B

Football fans lined up today at Memorial Stadium may or may not get a good seat for next August's preseason Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game. But they will be front row and center for another bruising matchup: Baltimore's leading media outlets, each trying to top the other.

No fewer than nine radio stations and five television stations are expected to make appearances this morning at the stadium, many of them broadcasting live. One station will give away 1,000 slices of pizza and more than 100 cases of Pepsi. Another plans to collect signatures on a mammoth, football-shaped card addressed to the NFL.

Others plan to float a giant balloon over head and hold a Nerf ball field-goal contest. There will be free bumper stickers, T-shirts, performances by the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, and, for the first 100 in line, coupons for McDonald's breakfasts.

This comes after a week when area stations and newspapers -- including this one -- promoted the sale with thousands of dollars of free advertising and extensive coverage in news columns and talk shows. Game organizers hope a quick sellout will help persuade the NFL to award Baltimore a team when the league expands in 1994.

"What I've seen in my view is almost unprecedented," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and a host of the exhibition game. "There's almost a blitz."

The authority has spent almost nothing on promotion for the game, but expects the 32,000 remaining tickets to be sold today. Twenty-six thousand tickets already have been sold by mail. Organizers hope news of a quick sellout, and video of the festivities, may make it onto the Super Bowl broadcast tomorrow.

The lavish attention paid to an exhibition game reflects the symbiotic relationship between pro sports and the media. If Baltimore lands a team, it would be very good for the local media business, experts say.

"All the media stand to gain. It provides another thing to talk and read about," said Craig Skiem, the Dallas-based director of sports consulting for Coopers & Lybrand.

"Clearly we're talking about something in the community that could expand the ad and readership base," Skiem said.

As for the teams, media coverage is "an essential part of the product," he said.

John Morton, a newspaper analyst with the Wall Street firm of Lynch, Jones & Ryan, agreed. "It's important to both sides," he said.

Media coverage enhances interest in teams, stoking the fan support that is crucial to ticket and television revenue, Morton said. And an interest in teams creates a demand for the information that the media provide, he said.

"Anything that expands the news -- which a local team does -- enlarges the news product," Morton said.

Jim Fox, vice president and general manager of B-104 radio, said he's not sure he's ever seen so many stations turning out for something other than the city fair or the Orioles' last game at Memorial Stadium.

"I personally feel that pro football is good for the marketplace. It draws attention to our city and brings in revenues and tourist dollars," said Fox, whose station plans the pizza and Pepsi giveaway and a special Saturday edition of its morning show, broadcast from the parking lot.

If a team comes to Baltimore, the local radio stations will bid to broadcast the games. The local telecasts of games would depend on network and cable contracts.

"Anything that's good for anybody is good for us," said Arnold J. Kleiner, vice president and general manager of WMAR-TV (Channel 2). "It brings more jobs to town and people spend more money and buy more cars. It's good for all of us [in the media]."

Representatives from WMAR-TV, WBAL-TV and WJZ-TV as well as FOX-45 and Maryland Public Television are expected at the stadium today, said Edie Brown, spokeswoman for the event. Ex-Baltimore Colts stars will be on hand, along with other celebrities.

Corporate interest has not been limited to the media. Other companies have been lined up to buy blocks of tickets in case fan sales fall short.

For most of the companies, landing a football team would provide only indirect economic benefits, said Raymond "Chip" Mason, head of the sports promotion effort of the Greater Baltimore Committee and of the investment firm of Legg Mason Wood Walker.

"It costs them money," Mason said. "But it does make a big difference in the quality of life for your employees and your ability to recruit employees."

Meanwhile, as fans began lining up for tickets yesterday at Memorial Stadium, game organizers were busy explaining a ticket snafu. Disgruntled mail-order ticket holders clogged phone lines at radio call-in shows and the offices of the organizers, including the Maryland Stadium Authority, claiming they received bad seats while good ones still are available.

Frank Jablonski, who holds 27 mail-order tickets, threatened to boycott. As an alternative, he said, he may bring his contingent to the game with signs reading "The Stadium Authority Lies."

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