Imagine if a baseball game was all it took to restore Americans’ hope in rebuilding our country. If a ceremonial first pitch from the President of the United States was a bailout plan for baseball and for restoring our American spirit of philanthropy and community service. And, imagine the positive impact on corporate advertising if baseball’s declining ratings suddenly skyrocketed as a result of the goodwill. It’s more than an unattainable American dream. Politics, business, service and sports all converged at this year’s Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, and the winning team was the advertisers.
MLB has a rich history of philanthropy, and incorporating community service into the mix this year—in line with President Obama’s United We Serve initiative—was smart and strategic. The President’s rising tide is floating MLB’s boat, and for baseball advertisers, the momentum can truly help charter a new course. The community service initiative alone drove early sales of sponsors’ advertising inventory. The President’s attendance at the All-Star game also helped drive viewership numbers through the roof. For advertisers, that meant getting more value for their MLB sponsorship and more reputational benefits for their brands.
But don’t be mistaken: Corporate philanthropy tied to the All-Star Game was about much more than a “do-good halo.” After all, some of those advertisers have something important to prove; many have also been recipients of TARP funds, and their spending is under scrutiny. The advertisers at the game were getting real bang for their buck and had no qualms about saying so.
Bank of America, whose employees have a strong legacy of volunteerism, demonstrated its service with its All-Star Hits for Hunger donation to Feeding America. The company was quick to say that for every dollar spent at sporting events, it earns $3. And General Motors, who sponsors the Roberto Clemente Award that honors those players who are also all-star humanitarians, says it is earning a 5:1 return on its investment.
These companies are aligning a cause with their brands because it is a fit with their brand equity, but more importantly, because it will help drive sales. MLB and its advertisers are benefiting from the nation’s collective action around responsibility and service, and this positive brand halo may continue to drive increased baseball ratings, and ultimately, positive return for advertisers.
As the season begins to wind down, in concert with the close of President Obama’s summer service initiative on September 11, we’ll continue to see companies and brands demonstrating a commitment to cause where it is directly linked to delivering on a business objective. Moving forward, companies have permission to expect an ROI for their social commitments. In this recession, if we require companies to commit precious advertising and marketing dollars to social commitments, we must accept that they need to see business results, too.
Alana Schmitt Burns, Vice President, Cone