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Marlins are a marketing agent's dream


By Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, February 22, 2004




JUPITER -- Josh Beckett has only 17 career victories. But there he is in a national TV commercial with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, yukking it up with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, in the VIP circles at Daytona International Speedway with Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Affleck.


Jack McKeon is 73. But there he is giving motivational speeches to Fortune 500 companies, on the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine and ranked with Gen. Tommy Franks and actress Jessica Lange among the AARP's 10 most influential senior citizens.


Once a joke of the sports world, the Florida Marlins -- a franchise synonymous with the terms "fire sale" and "dismantling" -- have blossomed into sports marketing darlings.


"Now it's cool to like the Marlins. It's cool to like what they stand for,'' said John Boggs, a San Diego-based marketing agent whose clients include McKeon, the National League's Manager of the Year.


After upsetting the New York Yankees in the World Series, the underdog, low-revenue Marlins stand for hope. And that message is being conveyed by representatives of two distant and different demographic targets.


"In Miami, you have a lot of retired people who can relate to Jack McKeon and are excited to see someone of his age be able to achieve what he can. Then you have the South Beach set who relate to young guys like Beckett and (Dontrelle) Willis,'' said Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports and Entertainment, a sports marketing company in New York.


"Except for New York, the whole nation fell in love with the Marlins for showing they can win with these youngsters. To have a manager that age and basically kids on the same team definitely increases their appeal, especially these days with the way the Yankees are gobbling up all the talent.''



Good for demographics


After Beckett's series-clinching shutout over the Yankees in Game 6, Major League Baseball's marketing department tapped the World Series MVP as the sport's newest emerging star.


"For the month of October, Josh Beckett captivated America. It's our job to keep the spotlight on Josh,'' said Jacqueline Parkes, an MLB senior vice president for marketing.


"He very much appeals to demographics we're trying to bring into the game, (ages) 18 to 38. What better way to attract them than have someone who looks very much like them? Josh is a very down-to-earth guy who is exceedingly talented on the field, and he's very relevant to target.''


As part of a new campaign to promote rising stars with established ones, Beckett was featured with Rodriguez and Jeter in a commercial that first aired Feb. 1 after the Super Bowl. The league estimates that 70 percent of the country's male population saw the ad.


Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre was cleaning up after a Super Bowl party when the commercial came on. "I heard the voice. I said, 'That sounded like Beckett.' It is Beckett!' " he said.


"Now, people at least know something about the Marlins. It gets everybody excited about the Marlins on a national level.''


Last Monday, Beckett helped kick off the league's "Countdown to Opening Day" campaign with an advertisement in national newspapers featuring his image and a quote: "Starting opening day we plan on showing everyone why we are the World Series champs.''


In April, he'll appear in an opening day ad with Jeter, Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez. Said Parkes: "He is clearly a dominant figure on the mound and a name people should get used to seeing a lot more of.''


The nation's love affair with the Marlins doesn't surprise Sean Flynn, the team's marketing vice president.


"We were in Miami at a festival on Calle Ocho and I couldn't believe the number of teenage girls wearing Miguel Cabrera jerseys,'' Flynn said.


The Marlins are preparing to roll out their own campaign. One print ad shows Pierre sitting on a couch eating pizza and aiming the TV remote. Behind him, piled up over the couch, are 65 bases, representing his stolen-base total that led the majors.


An ad shot Friday in Fort Lauderdale shows McKeon standing in a crowded church -- a play off the manager's daily trips to Mass. In the ad, Flynn says, "Everyone has a hymnal book and Jack has a lineup card.''


Perhaps the best ad will be shot next week, and it won't feature anybody. It will show the Marlins' parking lot with a Mercedes in McKeon's spot and a Jaguar in owner Jeffrey Loria's spot. Then, in Beckett's parking spot, is a Chevy truck with the actual World Series trophy tied with rope above the front bumper as a hood ornament.



'He can sell anything'


McKeon is negotiating with AARP and an undisclosed number of corporations for possible endorsement deals.


"The Viagra people haven't called,'' Boggs, his marketing agent, said with a laugh, "but he's the best spokesperson in the world. He can sell anything. He probably could have entered the Democratic primary.''


During the off-season, McKeon gave at least a dozen motivational speeches to companies from New Jersey to South Florida.


"He did one in the Bahamas, and when he was done, the company liked it so much they wanted him to stay another day. He couldn't do it. He was having eye surgery,'' Boggs said.


"He's been all over the map. He has said 'no' more than 'yes' because he could have filled up every day (of his off-season).''


At a time when baseball management is on a trend toward youth -- consider Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein (30) and Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta (31) -- McKeon has emerged as a trailblazer for the over-70 set.


"You can't believe the letters I get from senior citizens all over the country,'' McKeon said of his off-season fan mail, which included an overflowing basket in his office at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.


"One says, 'You energized me. I'm 76 years old and just seeing the way you went about it, I'm going back to work.' I get letters from people saying, 'You got me going to church every day.' Makes you feel good.''


Meanwhile, Beckett spent much of the off-season with lingerie model Leann Tweeden, whom he met on the set of Fox's Best Damn Sports Show Period, and pitcher Carl Pavano has appeared in gossip columns because of his romance with actress Alyssa Milano.


"Want to see my girl?'' Beckett said as he reached into his locker in Jupiter for a magazine featuring photos of Tweeden.


Catcher Mike Redmond scanned the magazine.


"Josh,'' he said, "you're in way over your head.''


Gotta love Redmond's comment to Beckett...so true. I hope this continues to build, you know, kind of like the Indians in the movie Major League - loveable champs. Good times...

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