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MLB's Turn At Bat Has Partners In Full Swing, February 23, 2016

By Barry Janoff

It's not even spring, but the Boys of Summer are making plans to activate for the 2016 season.

Spring Training camps have already opened — not the same without Yogi Berra, who when he was a coach once told players preparing for a warm-up drill, "Pair up in threes" — with the first exhibition games coming March 1, followed by Opening Night and Day April 3 - 4 and Jackie Robinson Day on April 15.

Good news for MLB marketing partners and others seeking to tap into what many still regard as the National Pastime.

Baseball may have its best group of young marketable stars in years, according to industry analysts.

That would include Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels), Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals), Alex Gordon (Kanas City Royals), Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets), Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marins), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays), Luis Severino (New York Yankees), Carlos Correa (Houston Astros), Henry Owens (Boston Red Sox) and the Chicago Cubs trio of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

MLB started early in its marketing efforts, upping the ante this year regarding what it called Spring Training imagery, including Rawlings baseballs stamped with Grapefruit League (Florida) and Cactus League (Arizona) logos, redesigned Diamond Era 59Fifty caps from New Era and the new Flex Base uniform system (more flexibility and cooling) from Majestic, the official uniform provider for MLB, which all 30 clubs will wear during the coming season.

MLB scored a total of $778 million in sponsorship spending during the 2015 season, a record for the league and up more than $80 million from the previous record of $695 million in 2014, according to the MLB IEG Sponsorship Report from research, marketing and consulting firm IEG, Chicago.

IEG indicated that MLB is on pace to set a new record sponsorship spend total in 2016.

In comparison to the other three major U.S., sports, MLB trails only the NFL, which had sponsorship revenue in 2015 of $1.2 billion.

MLB last season had official partners and sponsors in 24 categories. That included seven new sponsors: Amazon Web Services, DraftKings, Esurance, Falken Tire, The Hartford, Maytag and Starwood Hotels.

MLB's roster of partners with planned marketing efforts also includes PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch, P&G, Chevrolet, Bank of America, Nike, MasterCard, Scotts and Oxiclean.

According to Chris Lee, Director of Brand Partnerships and Social Engagement for Esurance, "In our first year with MLB, things (were) exciting and will continue to be. It's been great relationship. They have helped us tremendously to get on board as a sponsor and to walk us through the process."

Esurance sponsored MLB's all-digital balloting, leaving behind paper ballots that had been in use for decades. The result: A record 620 million votes cast, plus some 111.8 million cast as part of the Final Vote, which Esurance also sponsored. That will happen again this season for the All-Star Game in San Diego.

Falken, which joined MLB late in the season, said it plans to unveil a multi-platform campaign this season, to include TV, stadium signage and presence at jewel events.

Topps recently conducted a vote among fans, consumers and collectors to determine which player would get the coveted No. 1 spot in the first of several sets supporting the company's 65th anniversary of baseball cards.

Trout won out, with the Top Five also including Harper, Bryant, Posey and Donaldson. Harper was given prime real estate on the Topps Series 1 card box and pack wrapper. Posey will continue to appear in multi-media marketing for Topps.

"We will have a lot of events throughout the year," said David Leiner, vice president and general manager of sports and entertainment for Topps. "We will have a presence at MLB jewel events such as Opening Day plans and in the FanTest during All-Star Game week. We are planning promotions that will be weaved throughout our Topps trading cards products. It will not only be in-product but in-stadium and other places."

MLB fares well among fans, but still needs to work hard to reclaim its once-majestic position among U.S. sports. A poll conducted late last year by Chicago-based research and consulting firm Mintel showed that 50% of adults in the U.S. who consider themselves to be sports fans say that pro football is their favorite, with the demographic split 62% - 38% men-women.

College football came in as the second-favorite sport with 35%, followed by pro baseball (32%) and pro basketball (30%).