A market divided

Looking to lure fans in their ad campaigns, will the Orioles and the D.C. team play nice or get nasty?


October 03, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Jim Bloom had a quick brainstorm last week as he discussed the marketing strategies the Orioles might use now that they're officially competing for fans with the Washington Expos.

Bloom, who was with the Oakland Athletics when they decided to start tweaking the San Francisco Giants in their ads a few years ago, already could envision the new slogan plastered across billboards on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway: "The Baltimore Orioles. We never left."

It takes a devilish mind like Bloom's to consider how a heated rivalry could spawn between the Orioles and the new Washington team.

The Washington Senators left town twice, the last time in 1971, which opened a 33-year void for the nation's capital without Major League Baseball. The Orioles could go that route and punch Washingtonians in the gut, but it would leave them open for a quick comeback.

Two Orioles franchises have left Baltimore without a major league team, as well, including a formidable National League squad that folded in 1899, and an American League team that became the New York Highlanders in 1903, later becoming the New York Yankees.

OK, bad idea.

Bloom, who worked as Oakland's director of consumer marketing for seven years and recently left a similar post with the Toronto Blue Jays, said it's probably wise for the Orioles and the new Washington franchise to play it straight at first.

"I wouldn't go at each other out of the box," he said.

The point is, the Baltimore-Washington area is about to become Major League Baseball's fifth two-team market, joining New York, Chicago, Los Angeles-Anaheim, and San Francisco-Oakland.

In the coming months, [See Marketing, 3d] [Marketing, from Page 1d] the Orioles and Expos will have to establish a new niche. If they step on some toes, and a heated rivalry blossoms, so be it.

"There are some classic mistakes made in two-team markets," Bloom said. "In the '80s and '90s, teams thought the non-aggression treaty was the good way to go. But building a rivalry is the best way to go."

Last week, as Washington was picked as the future home of the Montreal Expos, Orioles executive director for communications Spiro Alafassos said he didn't want to discuss potential marketing strategies until owner Peter Angelos had completed negotiating a settlement with MLB.

Alafassos said his office was still waiting to hear from ownership what the "rules of engagement" would be with a new Washington team. It was an interesting choice of words.

Over the years, few teams have taken on a rival in their marketing campaigns. Often there's a gentlemen's agreement between teams not to trample on each other's turf.

The Ravens have had this with the Washington Redskins for the most part. That changed a bit in 2000, when the Redskins spent the summer trying to attract more Baltimore-area fans, but the Ravens countered by direct-mailing 80,000 season-ticket brochures into the Washington market, and the teams basically called a truce.

"Normally, you don't have teams that will poke fun at each other," said Robert Tuchman, the president of TSE Sports and Entertainment, a sports marketing firm from New York. "But with the envy and passion in Baltimore and Washington, it wouldn't surprise me if the baseball teams went after each other. I know in New York, with the Mets and the Yankees, those two teams truly don't like each other."

The Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 World Series, and the city's five boroughs were divided over an event everyone called the Subway Series. Chicagoans haven't experienced such a spectacle with their two teams, but the city's North Siders have a famous attachment to the Cubs, while the South Siders pull for the White Sox.

Separate cities

Baltimore and Washington are different because they are separate cities with distinct media markets. Each one has its own NBC affiliate, for example, while the Giants and Athletics are both competing for coverage from the same NBC affiliate.

The same goes for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels.

The Dodgers and Giants arrived in California first, however, so the L.A. area has always been viewed as Dodgers country, and the Bay Area has been viewed as Giants country.

In 2000, when the Giants were putting the finishing touches on SBC Park -- the place where Barry Bonds hits all those home runs into McCovey Cove -- the A's put a billboard on the Bay Bridge that said, "While they're building a stadium, we're building the team."

This year, the A's continued their playful assault with another billboard that said, "No splash hits. Just championships."

Laurence Baer, the Giants' chief operating officer, said his team took it in stride. "They haven't won a championship since 1989," he said of the A's. "They've poked fun at us, but we haven't poked fun at them.

"In our advertising, we talk about ourselves. If the A's want to talk about us, that's fine, too."

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